Speakers Rating: 96/100
“I still love you to death, and I won’t ever forget how,” Jeff Tweedy sings on the title track of Wilco’s eighth studio album, The Whole Love. It’s one of Wilco’s best albums in a few years because it exudes happiness and vulnerability at the same time. Yes, this is the band I fell in love with a decade ago.
Wilco is at its best when the songs they deliver are fragile, yet unrelenting. This happens from the start on The Whole Love, with “Art of Almost” sounding as if it’s got just enough juice to jump a dead car battery. And once it gets going, well, the road ahead is a little bumpy — it takes a wrong turn, comes back around again, and knocks you out with a few minutes of noise that only a guitarist like Nels Cline can deliver. It’s more than a bit manic, and I love it.
“I Might” follows with Tweedy taking a non-committal approach to his lyrics: “You won’t set the kids on fire, oh, but I might.” It’s a hint at what’s on his mind — that there is potential in his every move, but he’s going to take his precious time. We find this again on the title track when he sings, “I hope I’ll know when to show you my whole love.” He hopes, but he doesn’t promise anything.
Of course, the light can go on at any time. On “Dawned on Me,” there is an inclination to just pick up the phone and tell the person you love them. I guess it can be that easy, albeit we’re told there are “voices” in Tweedy’s head, and that sometimes he “can’t believe how dark it can be.” The beauty that potential brings is always masked with a touch of hesitancy in his world.
The Whole Love’s best two tracks, “Born Alone” and “One Sunday Morning,” are both blessed with certain gifts. The former has a can’t-miss melody that overshadows dark lyrics about being “born to die alone.” The latter is more of a journey, lamenting on doubts and soon farewells, perhaps a statement on lives that were not able to find or give their whole love.
How much can you give, and will you ever be able to give it? Will you pick up the phone, completely by chance, and tell someone you love them? Will you live a life of settling for “almost?” Will you die alone? Those are the questions on The Whole Love. The answers are different for all of us.