Who needs magicians pulling rabbits from hats when Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy can perform the same trick using either his head or his ass? Tweedy’s a talented, frequently maddening songwriter who received too much credit for fleeing Americana in search of Radiohead. While Wilco’s fractured experimental pop can be majestic and intriguing (and self-indulgent), it’s generally closer to great architecture than engaging songwriting. Ironically, it took Wilco leaving the majors for the first time to reignite Tweedy’s interest in pop music, helping him fashion the band's catchiest, most unaffected album since 1999’s Summerteeth. While The Whole Love opens with a glitchy seven-minute atmospheric mood piece (“Art of Almost”), it quickly gathers steam behind a driving, organ-addled rocker (“I Might”) and a shimmery somnambulant ballad (“Sunloathe”), which indulge Tweedy’s long-dormant Beatles’ fascination. They’re but appetizers for a meaty middle, occupied by the punchy, harmony-laden “Dawned On Me,” the jangly exultant “Born Alone” (which sounds like noisy mid-period R.E.M.), and the pièce de résistance “Standing O,” an undeniable raging little rave-up midway between John Lennon and Warren Zevon. While still weird and woolly ’round the edges, Wilco and producer Tom Schick (Mavis Staples, Ryan Adams) finally return to the timeless well-crafted pop that first brought them attention to great effect.
★★★★ (out of 5)