There are still a few bands out there for whom we giddily circle the Tuesday release date on the calendar and then, when that blessed date arrives, make a point of going to the music store so we can hold in our hands and purchase the physical artifact that is an album. Wilco is, if not tops on the list, in the top three. (Arcade Fire, Andrew Bird, and Radiohead would vie for the other two spots. R.E.M., may it rest in peace, was the first band to grace this list.)
What’s funny about Wilco is that, going back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), we have heard the entirety of every album well before it officially released. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was, famously, the album that got the band dropped from its label, Reprise, an episode that was the subject of Sam Jones’s documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (our inaugural Friday Recommend). Wilco bucked conventional wisdom by streaming the album free online during the interim period until Nonesuch officially released it. It’s difficult to comprehend now what a radical thing this was at the time. Who would buy music they had already heard for free?, many people wondered. Lots of people, it turned out. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot went gold and remains Wilco’s greatest commercial success to date.
Ever since Wilco has made it easy to hear its music before it officially releases, and like A Ghost is Born (2004), Sky Blue Sky (2007) and Wilco (the Album) (2009) before it, we’ve been listening to The Whole Love steadily over the past few weeks. It may be the least consistent album the band has yet released — a virtue in that Jeff Tweedy and the gang are back to the experimentation that gave YHF and A Ghost is Born their edge, a vice in that The Whole Love feels less cohesive than what we’ve come to expect from these guys. It’s literally all over the map, from the discordant skronk of the first track, “Art of Almost,” to the beautiful, autumnal closer, “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” with forays in between to power pop (the Summerteeth-esque “Dawned On Me”), straight-on rock (“Standing O”), folk (“Rising Red Lung”), psychedelia (“Sunloathe”) and country (the shambling “Capitol City”). The Whole Love may make a lot of unexpected left turns, but you can’t say it’s not an interesting trip.
Whatever the merits of The Whole Love and discussions about where, precisely, it belongs in the Wilco canon aside, what we’re grateful for tonight is simply that we have a new Wilco CD playing on our stereo. In other words, it’s a good day.
Here is Wilco performing on Letterman last week. And the video of the album’s first single, “Born Alone”: