Image from an advertisement for Baby Ruth candy, 1945
It's been a while since Wilco did anything that interested me at all. A Ghost Is Born had some very irritating moments, Sky Blue Sky was too boring to even irritate me, and Wilco (The Album), though not a terrible record at all, failed to hold my attention the several times I gave it a chance. But I'm having a different experience with The Whole Love - it has some of the stretched-out and motorik structures of A Ghost Is Born, the Nels Cline guitar heroics of Sky Blue Sky, and the genre-defying songwriting of Wilco (The Album), but the elements are combined better this time around. And it's just a better set of songs that I keep coming back to.
The appeal of The Whole Love starts with how it's put together - starting the album with "Art of Almost", a long guitar workout a la "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" and ending it with an even longer elegiac folk tune ("One Sunday Morning") reminiscent of "Remember the Mountain Bed" is a tidy structure, particularly when the ten songs found in between are concise pop tunes. The symmetry appeals to me as a highly neurotic/compulsive music fan. And, apart from the gratingly cutesy "Capitol City", the album's shorter pop songs are well crafted, with clever arrangements drawing from all the past Wilco incarnations. My favorite elements on the album are drawn from the baroque pop style of Summerteeth, like the reedy organ lines in the scrappy "I Might". I find that Jeff Tweedy's voice is particularly weak-sounding on this album (too much clean living?), but there are plenty of other songs that I could classify as top-tier Wilco - "Sunloathe", "Born Alone", "Standing O" - making this my favorite Wilco record since ... wow, did Yankee Hotel Foxtrot really come out nine years ago?
"I Might" by Wilco