I listened to J. Tweedy’s latest record and I don’t know why but I thought about writing a review, basically to indulge myself. Maybe there is a BC section for this kind of stuff? Anyhow, for anyone that may be interested... apologies if this is irrelevant or out of place here.
Jeff Tweedy – Love Is The King, 2020
Jeff Tweedy needs a haircut. Let’s get that out of the way. Now, about the record.
“Love is The King” is the best album Jeff Tweedy has recorded over the past decade. What he seems to report himself as almost gymnastics in response to the boredom, anxiety and fear triggered by the pandemic lockdown, is actually a sweet and perfect collection of songs about, fittingly, love and coming home. And so, perhaps (un)intentionally, Jeff’s genius has come alive in 2020 to present us with this gift.
It is not, however, a soundtrack to the pandemic. Wilco’s latest offering, the claustrophobic “Ode to Joy”, was. No justification needed: look at titles like “Everyone hides”, “We were lucky” or “Love is everywhere (beware)”. Look at the cover, a big crude white hopeless emptiness. Gosh.
The mystery is that Jeff managed to deliver it well before ‘virus’ was a word that had to be pronounced every day. Here, Jeff’s looks, increasingly reminiscent of some old Woodstock prophet that went to the other side and somehow made it back, perhaps make sense.
Regardless, Love is The King is filled up with nostalgia , the kind that makes us smile and saviour the notion that it was all worth it in the end. The bare bones approach to instrumentation is here much more satisfying than on previous offerings, and far superior to the last three Wilco records and Warm/Warmer, all put together. Those albums gave me the impression that Jeff was trying too hard to hit rock bottom, destroying things on purpose, de-constructing, resetting – powering off in a very long-winded way. One could only nod or smile when an occasional mistake was made in the shape of a brilliant song. You could almost visualise the rest of Wilco slowly fading away in the background. Maybe he was just trying to be nasty. An intellectual exercise - maybe testing the boundaries of what the Tweedy brand could get away with.
Here things are much simpler, and inevitably beautiful. Guitar arpeggios whisper in your ear, and a no-frills rhythm section invite your brain to dance and cry. Taste and honesty abound. Jeff still sings in his late half-asleep voice – but less so. He still likes to twist and turn in unexpected ways at times. But, as with the best Wilco records, these spicy elements are grounded on the song, and contribute to make it just slightly awkward, inviting repeated listening rather than testing one’s love for the artist. Any Wilco fan in the world will only miss one thing: a proper Wilco treatment of these songs – Jeff’s Nelscline-esque riff attempts are solid but can’t compare with the crazy imagination and virtuosity of the original. One can’t help but imagine the bits of piano and hammond that could be offered by Jorgensen and Sansone, the astute, serpentine bass lines of Stirratt, the invented percussion sounds of Kotche, all working towards these songs. It would be a masterpiece. Maybe one day.
Still, these new songs are perfectly heart-shaped. We need to cherish Jeff as one our greatest songwriters, one that knows how to wake us up with a feeling that anything is possible, that can seamlessly combine tradition and vanguard in a way that most others can’t even approximate. This album firmly reinstates Jeff as an international treasure – one capable of creating these eleven universally touching songs. No small feat.
And so, if this is a prophetic record again (and why shouldn’t it), perhaps the post-pandemic world will not be so bad after all.