Another Jeff Tweedy Story: A soundtrack to joy and grief
Jeff Tweedy's Love is King sees the light
I will admit, I am an unabashed Jeff Tweedy fan. His two 2018 releases, WARM and WARMER touched on themes ubiquitous within us all. With songs about American regret and the search for meaning in an increasingly chaotic world, they caught the feeling of the times. Tweedy continues to elucidate our journey into the unknown with his latest release, Love Is King.
I came into the fold later than most diehard Wilco fans. Stumbling upon "Flowering" from the 2015 Tweedy release Sukiere, I was instantly hooked. It was the perfect blend of lyrical depth and musicality that makes a great album. And it is a great album, quickly becoming one of my favorites, along with Jeff Tweedy who wedged himself up there with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. A lot of Jeff Tweedy's songs have the ability to embed themselves in moments in your life. "Down From Above" was there when we abandoned the Kurds in Syria. "There's a Light" from Sky Blue Sky helped me when my mom was passing. And "Bombs From Above" is a reflective journey about American imperialism and decline in the new century which my generation will have to confront head on. That is why I was so ready to hear where Jeff's head was during these most chaotic of times. There was a new Wilco album just last year, but that was before COVID and the world was turned even more upside down. But Love Is King does not wallow in the sorrows of these uncertain times, instead it chooses to celebrate things that we are certain of.
The Album: Love Is King
The title track sets the tone of the entire album. "Love is King" is a realistic view on our current world. It laments tanks in American streets but also comes to the conclusion that above all, love is the answer. Throughout the album, this recurring theme will be touched upon. Dipping back into the sounds of early Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, the album has a bright, alt-country feel. Most songs contain reflective and sparse guitar work, but it always comes from a place of warmth, not a place of darkness. The sound perfectly represents Tweedy's musical evolution.
Jeff Tweedy's guitar shines throughout the album, with the fuzzy solos of "Bad Day Lately" complimented by the speedy country picking of "Natural Disaster". Following soft spoken professions of love's power to motivate and heal in "Even I Can See", "Natural Disaster" makes sure we don't forget about the uniquely unpredictable ride that true love is. The solos zip through the song, driven by the spot on country rhythm put down by son Spencer Tweedy. There is an optimism to all of the songs that leaves you to know that the struggle is always worth the reward. It is fitting for a time when the light at the end of tunnel can be hard to see.
The warmth of the music is undeniable. One of the best things that Jeff Tweedy did was to make music into a family activity. From Sukiere to WARM and WARMER, playing music with his children has allowed for some of the most prescient output of his career. The love of a father shines through on the album as Tweedy's other son, Sammy, provides harmonies on tracks as well. Love Is King is filled with slow burners, tracks that start off with a toned down sound just to climax with some great guitar work. "Bad Day Lately" is one such example. This music require patience, something that has always been a characteristic of Tweedy's music.
There is a mournful sound to the music, but it is the type of sound that calls to see the beauty in loneliness as is evoked by the brightness of love. From the sparse muted guitar work of "Evan I Can See" to the chipper "Natural Disaster", it's all here. That is the message of the album overall, at least in my estimation. It exalts the virtues of love, the act of receiving but also that of giving. From the declarations of love is king to the reassured refrain of I'll be there in the closing track "Half-Asleep", the album seeks to refute the hate and fear that seems to pervade the world. It is the perfect way to penetrate the noise of the world to show that Love Is King.
Standout Track: Natural Disaster - I could not stop signing and humming this tune all day after hearing it.
Overall: You know what I'm going to say. This is a great album if you are inclined to enjoy the country pickin', folk music aspect of Jeff Tweedy's music. Those looking for the experimental fuzz tracks of earlier Wilco albums need not apply.