The genre-bending Chicago group is back with its eighth album, but where will it go from here?


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Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Download: “Born Alone” & “Capitol City”

Jeff Tweedy is still insecure. And confident. And tired. And very possibly schizophrenic. To put it simply, Tweedy is the awkwardly affable frontman of Wilco, a band best known for being, well, awkwardly affable.

This connection is no accident. Like Ace Ventura explaining to anyone who will listen that “Finkel is Einhorn!,” I implore the reader to understand that Tweedy is Wilco.

Sure, there are other contributors in the six-piece band, but the primary singer/songwriter is synonymous with those five letters. As Tweedy goes, the group goes.

The band’s last few albums could have served as social networking metaphors, sort of like Tweedy’s own Twitter account that posts every couple years or so. Take, for example, 2007’s "Sky Blue Sky" (content translation: “Hey guys, just got out of rehab, back doing what I do best. #excited").

"Wilco" in 2009 could have gone something like this, “Hey, it’s me again, thought I’d make some neat pop songs. Can’t tell if Feist is hot or not. #stillkillingit.”

Of course, this brings Tweedy to his newest post, "The Whole Love." As of now, it reads like this, “...”

The album plods along at a slow tempo, perfectly Wilco-ish by design. After some of the hustle and bustle on "Wilco," this new effort is less jangly, more contemplative and just chilled-out in general. Tweedy is John Lennon, Conor Oberst and Win Butler all at once, portraying those characters on “Sunloathe,” “Open Mind” and “Dawned on Me,” respectively.

One of the higher-speed adventures attempted is “Born Alone,” which flips a Tweedy bird toward conventional pop structure, employing a simple guitar riff where there should be a big-time chorus.

As usual, Tweedy colors outside of the lines in his songwriting, but there’s nothing to get too excited about. Perhaps the singer has mastered the art of pretending to be doing something different when it really boils down to the same thing every time; Jeff Tweedy is conventionally unconventional.

In “Capitol City,” Tweedy asserts to a long distance lover, “You wouldn’t like it here.”

As the song goes on, a question begs to be asked. Is he talking about the city, or is he talking about his mind? He seems at once tortured yet completely resolute. Like I said, schizophrenic.

Before the smashing success of 2002’s "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," Wilco had a decidedly underground country vibe (an awesome term, I know) to its work. The group's breakout album brought it to the mainstream, and it has conquered that arena as well as it could at this point. The songs on "The Whole Love" are good. The album as a whole is solid.

But it’s clearly a stopgap. It is the last one Tweedy will make before he has to come up big again, and the future of Wilco will go one of two ways based on the songwriting of its next effort: 1. Tweedy will decide to shake it up and take another shot at universal acclaim, or 2. We’ll continue to get more of the same laid-back jams that define the band, slowly sending them off into the sunset of their career.

There is no questioning the quality of the music or the songwriting. They are both more than enough to keep fans happy. However, no one seems to know where Wilco wants to go from here.

As usual, it’s up to Jeff Tweedy.

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