It would be unfair to say that Wilco are currently on auto-pilot, so let’s just say that they take a wholeheartedly “comfortable” approach when creating albums these days. As the years go by, the albums become more and more cosy and contented to remain relatively quaint. 2007’s Grammy Award nominated Sky Blue Sky was positively horizontal compared to their rambunctious and ambitious early releases such as 1996’s Being There. However, wouldn’t it be a bit embarrassing to see Jeff Tweedy, now firmly in his forties, rocking out like a coked up twenty-something, creaky knees and all? Well, actually, no. Neil Young still lurches around the stage like a kid pretending to be a T-Rex and gets away with it. For their latest release, Wilco rediscover their youthful vigour and playfulness in the studio, without regressing or losing their recent love for softer rock.

The Whole Love is Wilco’s eight studio album and the first on their own record label dBpm. The record as a whole is extremely varied in sound and structure, baring all the hallmarks of a band who are thriving within a setting with no obstacles or boundaries. Take the opening track ‘Art Of Almost’, for example, which ranks highly with some of Wilco’s most daring songs to date; a soggy drum beat opens the song as it slowly builds towards a swell of dramatic strings, industrial electronics and a personal best guitar wig-out from Nels Cline. It’s a cinematic opening to an album with an absorbing musical narrative.

Whether it’s the incessant pounding country-rock of ‘I Might’, the transverse Bowie-esque opus of ‘Sunloathe’ or the sweeping desert Americana of the lap steel led ‘Black Moon’, you certainly get the feeling that you’re be rewarded with as much Wilco per pound (minute?) as possible. Each track touches upon elements of Wilco’s past; the relentless rhythm of track such as ‘Dawn On Me’ hark back to A Ghost Is Born, the bright, uplifting power-pop of ‘Born Alone’ evokes Summerteeth and the wonky, country honky-tonk of ‘Capitol City’ reminds us the band’s past forays into softer-than-marshmallow-soft-rock on Sky Blue Sky. Although seemingly representing something of a “Best Of Wilco," the album may leave you thoroughly satisfied, yet hungry for the delights of past albums.

For many, Wilco will be one of those very special bands, a band who can do no wrong, and, although far from being their best work, it’s hard to criticise these guys. Jeff Tweedy has proved to be one of the most consistently incredible and intriguing songwriters of the past decade, his songs always carry a hefty weight of melancholy, yet the immaculately vibrant musicianship of the rest of the band lift the songs to something beyond spiritual or psychological catharsis; instead, becoming a world of their own, a place to be visited and re-visited several times over. It’s impossible not to smile at the unabashed Flaming Lips style optimism of ‘Born Alone’, but lyrically, whilst remaining characteristically obscure, it’s devastating; “Loneliness postponed/My eyes deceiving glory/I was born to die alone."

The Whole Love portrays Wilco at their most reflective. The band, obviously thrilled to be releasing their own material, on their own terms, on their own record label, have decided to experiment without taking too much of a risk, explore new territories without pushing the boundaries. It seems unfair to criticize Wilco for not being at their very best; kind of like lambasting Usain Bolt for not smashing his own 100m world records despite leaving all his fellow competitors wheezing and panting in his wake.