Album Review- Wilco: The Whole Love

So I’m sitting there in the park, enjoying the view over Elliot Bay in Seattle, minding my own business, when some 20-year-old dude breaks into the silence of a sun-soaked day.

Hey have you heard their new album?

What’s that? I asked him politely because I am a pastor-type and we pastor-types should respond with some sort of gentleness even if we are lost in a conversation (this is a part of the calling I have only just discovered). The problem was that I forgot what shirt I was wearing. I was wearing my totally rad (it’s good to be back on the West Coast) Wilco t-shirt.

The other part of the story is that I had not even realized that my favorite band was coming out with new music. And just when I thought life could not get any better! Some things the Lord gives me are the type of little gifts I had not thought to ask from him. New Wilco? Yes please.

Wilco’s latest, The Whole Love (Anti, 2011) just released last week and, thanks to my new friend in the park, along with my old friend Garrett, I was able to get a hold of this fantastic album.

Now, everybody is going to tell you that this is some sort of a “renaissance” for the Chicago band, but this is to assume that the last few albums have been somehow unimpressive. The Whole Love is not a return to form for Wilco, but yet another stellar movement in maturity for the ever-aging band. In a world where celebrities refuse to grow up, why should we be upset if a songwriter into his forties writes as a man who has learned something from his experiences?

The Whole Love is the type of an album, much like the now decade-old Yankee Hotel, Foxtrot, that demands attention and several playbacks. The good news is that the listener will not be disappointed. Front-man Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics are a bit more obscure than they have been for the past couple of records, so you know from the first song The Art of Almost, that this will not be elevator music anytime soon. The listener is thrust into the deep, mysterious difficulty of love with these words:

          I can’t be so far away from my wasteland;

           I never know when I’m with my own hands- Almost. Almost;

            I would let you love but I had other ways to help myself;

            By calling out, open up my heart and fall

            I blame it all on dust, almost…almost…almost…

I wish I could not identify with his difficulty to love and be loved.

There is a beautiful rhythm to The Whole Love that keeps a beautiful tension between a man who is learning to love and a man who feels his own incapacity to let anybody into his life. A bonus track Message from Mid-Bar catches this rhythm:

            Love will keep us together; love will tear us apart;

            I don’t care what the song says; it’s not in my heart

How delicate and vulnerable is our love.

As the album goes on, we start to get the picture of our broken incapability to love- or even to be loved. We are on a constant mission of sabotage against our happiness when the very thing we long for is the thing we push away time after time. Tweedy once again hits the nail on the head. We are broken, needy and imperfect, even in the best days of our love.

Never is the theme more evident than in the title track Whole Love. Here is a man crying out in desperation for freedom from his own tyranny. Just see if this strikes a chord with you:

            And I know that I won’t be; the easiest to set free

            And I know I won’t be the last; cold captain tied to the mast.

           And I know I won’t be the one; to secure they’ll know what it’s from;

            But I hope I’ll know when its past;

            And I hope I’ll know when I show you my whole love.

Amazing, those ideas of fear, freedom and love- seems we always find them together. And I am right there with Tweedy, it turns out I am not the easiest to set free, either. My own crew has turned against me and tied me to the mast of self-righteousness, anger and lies.

I’ve got nothing but a fulfillment of this “whole love” in the God who became flesh for me. It is no longer an idea, it is becoming a reality.

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