Back to the Beginning: Wilco’s A.M. vs. The Whole Love

From the ashes of Uncle Tupelo rose Wilco, an alt-country band that helped define a genre. Though the sledding has been tough for Jeff Tweedy and his band, the band continues to make music, culminating thus far in the album released this week, The Whole Love. Let’s see how it compares to their debut, A.M.

A.M.

wilco past Back to the Beginning: Wilcos A.M. vs. The Whole Love

While not as much of a commercial and popular success as the ill-fated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A.M. holds a special place in my heart. Critics and fans have dubbed the album as an excellent example of “Alt-Country,” and far be it from me to disagree. Wilco’s debut sounds almost like a love note to the good times had while Tweedy was in Uncle Tupelo with Jay Farrar. Seriously, listen to No Depression, and then immediately start listing to A.M. It’s like it’s the same band. (Mainly because it is the same band, just without Jay Farrar, who went on to form Son Volt, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Jeff Tweedy and Company aren’t just playing country western music with less twang and more edge, however. Yes, that’s absolutely present on this album: songs like “Pick Up The Change,” “Passenger Side,” “Blue Eyed Soul,” and “I Must Be High” bear this out.

There are departures, though, even if they are few and far between. “Casino Queen” feels less like one of the Country Outlaws, and more like a stripped-down track by Creedence Clearwater Revival or Lynyrd Skynyrd. “That’s Not The Issue” rips through guitar pickin’ like some of the best bluegrass you’ve heard, and “It’s Just That Simple” rips your heart out and stomps on it like some of the best Hank Williams, Sr. Clearly, Wilco is sticking with what they know, but they’re more complex than they might appear at first.

The Whole Love

wilco now Back to the Beginning: Wilcos A.M. vs. The Whole Love

Over the course of their career, Wilco experimented more with their alt-country sound and sometimes abandoned it altogether. Their perceived departures earned them the nickname, “The American Radiohead,” and The Whole Love will do little to dispel that perception. Their ninth studio album contains two sprawling epics: the seven minute “Art of Almost,” the first minute of which begins with drum loops and orchestral sweeps, and the twelve minute “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Girlfriend).” “Capitol City” sounds like Vampire Weekend sat in with the band. “I Might” could have been a lost The Byrds track. And, at least to me, “Dawned On Me” feels like just straight ahead alternative rock with softened edges.

Verdict: If you like your Alt-Country to emphasize the country, go with A.M. If you want more stress on the Alternative part of the genre, give The Whole Love a try.

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