Two years ago when “Wilco (the Album)” was released, I listened to the LP whilst laying on my floor and wrote out my first impressions by hand; at the time, I was just completing a cycle of heartbreak and Wilco’s unique, vaguely country, vaguely experimental, vaguely heartbreaking music comforted me in a very direct, ‘non-vague’ way. I remember hearing “One Wing” and thinking, this is one of the most true, beautiful songs I have ever, ever heard. I still feel this way. My loopy scrawls on some idle notebook page have not changed in scope or magnitude, despite that “Wilco (the album)” was not as critically acclaimed as some of the band’s earlier efforts nor did it make as big a splash creatively or commercially for the band.
Today, I didn’t have a notebook, nor did I have the luxury of being able to lay around on the floor and listen to this record for the first time. Instead, I had a morning before work and comfortable walking shoes – no pen or computer or notebook required. And so I took to the streets in the dimness of the orange-blue dawn, and “The Whole Love” was what I listened to on my way across the river.
Once in a while — perhaps once every couple of years or so – maybe even more – an album comes along that essentially changes your life, whether it be upon the very first listen, or after breaking it in two or three times. There is a moment when you hear a record that is truly great, and you wonder, ‘what did I do before I heard this?’ Because life before such a record is incomprehensible in just one fleeting 40-minute block of time. A question can be asked about just what is it that makes a record truly ‘great’, so that it reaches this “life-changing” realm, and I think different people will answer this question differently. For some, it is about musical virtuosity – when they hear a simmering electric guitar solo or tap their foot to the floor to some manic drumming while they’re driving their car. For others, it is the lyricism – who needs a devestatingly strong, unforgettable vocal performance when the frontman’s mildew-y, crusty every-man voice is belting out words that define and cement their oh-so-beautiful soul and in turn, ignite your own soul? And still, there are other reasons: truly GREAT vocals being one of them, or an album’s ability to come along in a time of great necessity for the listener. Some records just stand out: they provide something real and true for whatever reason; they stick; they resonate.
What Wilco does consistently is give me all of that aforementioned answer to the “what makes an album GREAT?” debate. Nels Cline on “The Whole Love” has single-handedly (well… double-handedly.. . and with seven invisible fingers on each of those hands, no doubt) resurrected that classic, distorted, face-melting, head-banging-til-your-neck-is-sore solo; Glenn Kotche’s clean, attention-grabbing beats never fail to both keep the beat and define it. Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics are characteristically odd and flawed, but hearing him sing earnest lines like “I wish you were here/better yet, I wish I was there with you” recalls sweet, lovelorn Paul McCartney-esque lyrics; and furthermore, Tweedy’s voice cuts deep when he sings sad, drawl-y country tunes just as much as it pulverizes while belting out staccato power pop. And on a personal note, the timing of this release could not come at a better point. As a young woman on the cusp of maturation who has big dreams and no true way of acheiving them at the moment, but a woman who still holds steady to both her streak of darkness and unabashedly romantic black vs. white notions of men and love and committment, this record speaks to me loudly and clearly in a way so few records can.
This morning, I heard Capitol City and thought of my own capital city, as well as cities of the other people I know and care about; I listened to Mikael Jorgenson’s hushed farfisa and the hustle-and-bustle sounds accompanying a perfectly beautiful, almost vaudevillian melody. And I just started smiling and couldn’t stop: this to me, sums up a visceral, authentic reaction to a record. I was just discussing with a friend actually, that ‘special, sacred feeling’ of listening to a song for the first time and wanting so badly to hang onto that feeling, I do my due diligence to never repeat a song more than twice, perhaps thrice, in a row tops. I try to limit myself so that the next time I hear the tune, it feels like going on that magical first date and getting excited butterflies to see the person again the following Friday night. Capitol City is my favourite track on this record – it tells a story I can relate to, it has a gorgeous, quirky melody, and it stands out to me as one of the most unique songs I’ve heard in a long time. It is carefully calculated but feels totally authentic and organic.
In short, “The Whole Love” LP makes me feel a sense of deep, deep, deep listener satisfaction; it is the record from Wilco I’ve been waiting for – the kind of record I had been waiting for without realizing so until I really heard it. It combines all the elements of Wilco, and of music in general, that I absolutely adore. And yet, the record instills in me too, a kind of creative frustration, because I will never be as good at anything as Wilco is at creating music.