First and last impressions are the ones that leave lasting memories, so make sure your bookending tracks are your best, and watch people forgive what’s in the middle. It happened to Sounds of Silence and Something Else by the Kinks and it happened to The Whole Love: “Art of Almost” and “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” – and thus, the album – captured a lot of critical attention; the first time they ventured past the 6-minute mark since A Ghost is Born. “Art of Almost” works up a Krautrock groove that’s as kinetic as that of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” before turning into a guitar workout over a half-stuttering, half-pounding drum; “One Sunday Morning” is plaintively if plainly pretty.
But even better are “I Might” and “Born Alone,” both released as singles. John Stirratt works up a lot of bite with his bass guitar, in nice contrast with the sunny organ hook, and while Tweedy’s lyrics might not mean anything to anyone (“You won’t set the kids on fire, but I might”), he delivers them as he always has – passionately enough for you to singalong. This has always been one of the band’s strengths, even on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. (Actually, when “I Might” starts, I always get reminded of “Kamera,” if only because of the momentum.) And Glenn Kotche really elevates “Born Alone”: the military rolls leading into the incessant beat while Nels Cline finally brings back the electric guitar since “Art of Almost.”
The rest of the album is a disappointment: “Standing O” sounds like an awkward attempt to rock out, mostly relying on that handclap cadence in the choruses; “Whole Love” has that amiable hook filling in the spaces, but Jeff Tweedy’s launches into falsetto were ill-advised; I guess “Sunloathe” has a nice keyboard line. The rest happened, and that’s all I can say about it, even though it happened just now to me.