What’s a Punchout? It’s like mixed martial arts for pop culture: two reviewers battling over one film or book or musical release–and you get to decide who wins. Who wrote the better review? Whose opinion do you agree with? Scroll down to vote for the review you like best. Support your favorite reviewers, because we’ll be keeping score. And we want to know what you think: please comment and feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
The Whole Love
The Whole Love: Hipster-Friendly. Dad-Approved.
by Matt Gonzales (3-0-1)
I’m a new father, so you can imagine my excitement upon getting my hands on a copy of Wilco’s The Whole Love. There’s nothing Gen X dads (and increasingly, boomer dads) love more than some late-era Wilco.
I put on my flannel robe, slipped on my corduroy house slippers, poured myself a steaming hot cup of Folger’s House Blend, and got all set to slumber in my recliner to some occasionally-inventive-but-never-offensive folk-rock courtesy of Tweedy, Cline, Stirratt, and Kotche.
Three seconds into the crunch and hiss of album opener “Art of Almost”, I did a spit-take all over my New Yorker magazine. I wasn’t sure which was more alarming – that I’d totally ruined the Shouts & Murmurs page, or that someone had mistakenly given me the latest Radiohead instead of the new Wilco album. I looked at my 3-month-old son accusingly. He looked back at me, nonplussed.
Then Tweedy’s raspy voice (sounding more Henley-esque than ever – this dad approves!) chimed in reassuringly. I could breathe easy; I was in dad-friendly territory.
Or was I? At the five-minute mark, “Art of Almost” morphed into a Can-like krautrock rave-up. Kotche’s insistent drums thwap-thwap-thwapped in lockstep with Stirratt’s dad-defying fuzzed-out bass groove. All hell broke loose when Cline ripped off a scorching solo. “Turn that noise down!” I screamed at no one in particular. “Offa my lawn! Kids these days!”
None of that’s true, of course. What is true, though, is that “Art of Almost” surprised and delighted me more than anything by Wilco since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It’s just one song, but oh, what a song. It’s a shoe-in for the Great American Hipster Songbook, that’s for sure. And it is worth the price of admission to The Whole Love.
A good thing, too: The rest of the album is more or less dad rock. Even the first single, “I Might,” sounds like an attempt to beat fellow dad rockers Spoon (oh, come on, they’ve been dad-rockin’ for at least three albums now) at their own Motown-flavored dad rockin’ game. Then again, who am I to judge? Truth be told, dad that I am, I kind of dig it.
Off-Center. In A Good Way.
by Chris Overpeck (0-2)
Wilco come out swinging on The Whole Love. The opening track, “Art of Almost,” starts with a noisy intro the swells into a drum and bass heavy groove with synthesizers, strings, and a wailing guitar solo joining in along the way. This is followed by “I Might,” which is driven by a fuzzed-out bass and a melody that’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head. It’s immediately clear that this is the old ambitious Wilco we all fell in love with. (By the way, this is Wilco’s first self-released album, which I personally find exciting because Warner [or Nonesuch–same thing] won’t get any more of their grubby major label paws on money generated by a band that they famously misunderstood and underappreciated when they refused to release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.)
Wilco benefit tremendously from even slightly unconventional production. Jeff Tweedy is an excellent songwriter, but when he keeps it simple, it gets pretty easy for him to eek into Adult Contemporary territory. This was most evident on their last two albums, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album). Neither of these records were necessarily bad, but they were totally predictable. There are conventional songs on The Whole Love, but they work so much better when they’re sandwiched between the upbeat and slightly off-center pop songs that Wilco have perfected.
I was fully prepared to whine about the length of some of the songs here (“Art of Almost” clocks in at over seven minutes and “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” at 12 minutes). I’m from the Paul McCartney school of thinking when it comes to pop music: short and sweet. But these long songs turn out to be the album’s highlights. Sonically, they’re polar opposites, but as the opening and closing of this album, they are exceptional bookends to Wilco’s best album in years.