Jeff Tweedy
Love is the King

Jeff Tweedy is probably more sanguine than you are at this moment in time, or maybe he’s just conveying that message right now.  Either way, I welcome it.  Tweedy, better known, perhaps, as the frontman of Wilco, has released a new book, How to Write One Song, and his wife, Susan, created an Instagram, The Tweedy Show, which features Jeff and their family recording originals and cover songs.  And now, Jeff Tweedy has dropped the warm, acoustic, mellow sounds of Love is the King.  He record the album back in April, after Wilco’s European tour was cancelled, in quarantine sessions at The Loft in Chicago.  In a lot of ways, Love is the King is a Tweedy family affair, as his sons Spencer and Sammy appear on most of the songs.  Spencer drums, plays percussion, and provides some vocals, and Sammy provides vocals.  The Tweedys between them create all the music on this album.

The album opens with the gentle acoustic guitar strumming of the title track, which, in many ways, is a quintessential Jeff Tweedy song, complete with familiar chord progressions and, of course, his voice, which is instantly recognizable.  The lyrics are about our historical epoch:

Here I am
There it is
At the edge
Of as bad as it gets
I’m a boxer
Blind when I swing
I sink
To my knees
I cling
And I bleed
But cry don’t you dare
When I die in the ring
Life isn’t fair
Love is the king
Love is the king.

The song plods along, the pretty acoustic guitars in the left speakers, the bass and the drums in the right, a gentle song that is a Sunday rainy morning.

‘Love is the King’ also sets the tone for the album as a whole, though ‘Opaline’ opens up with a more countrified feel, jaunty bass, 4/4 beat and a nice little electric guitar lick.  Tweedy’s laidback voice vs. the music creates somewhat of a discordant feel, though he sings in tune, and with the track.  Whatevs.  ‘A Robin or a Wren’ has that same electric guitar, plucked and played above and around the bass and drums, and Tweedy’s voice is harmonized with his sons’.  Lyrically, he faces all the fears we all face in the midst of a pandemic, declaring his love of life, his wife, and his fear of death, over this pleasant beat:

At the last, last call
When it’s time for us all
To say goodbye
I know I’m gonna cry
Know I’m gonna cry
Because all in all, I’m just having a ball
Being alive
And I don’t want to die.
I don’t wanna die
At the end of the end
Of this beautiful dream we’re in
I’ll wake up again
A robin or a wren
And then I’ll sit
Outside your window
I’ll sing a song you’ll recognize
And you won’t know why
You won’t know why.
And then a teardrop will fall
Into the corner of the smile
On your face
And I’ll be alive.
In a lot of ways, this is a classic country song, the optimism of the music covers up the heaviness of the lyrics.  This interplay between the music and the lyrics repeats throughout the album, the only place this formula is done away with, really, is on ‘Bad Day Lately,’ which is a slow-moving track, beginning with the strum of the acoustic guitar, before it explodes into a slow-burning Wilco-ish song, complete with the Nels Quine-ish guitar licks.
‘Natural Disaster’ might be my favourite song on the album, using the familiar formula here of acoustic guitar, bass, drums, and an electric lead floating over the track, as Tweedy and his sons harmonize, he is singing about, well, the fucking pandemic.  What did you expect?  I find it interesting that he wrote these songs at the start of all of this, when we were perhaps more culturally optimistic this wouldn’t last, you know, seemingly forever, and we had a run on toilet paper, and all that.  His existential dread throughout is more in tune with how this pandemic has progressed for me and my tribes, we’ve become increasingly worried, paranoid, scared, bored, and all of that.  At any rate, on ‘Natural Disaster,’ it’s the musicality that Tweedy brings to the song that makes it both catchy as all get out, but, at least in my humble opinion, great.
Along with the songs of impending doom and destruction, ponderings of mortality, another them to this album is Tweedy’s great big love for Susan.  On ‘Even I Can See,’ he is upfront in his declaration:
If I may have your attention please
I’ll tell you about my wife and what she means to me
How fiercely she believes what she believes
I laugh and I cry
I live and I die
By her side.
From time to time she puts her hand in mine
Holds me like a sharp, shiny key
I was never one who needed to believe
In a god hard to find
But I found by her side
There’s a god
Even I can see.
They say no work of art is ever done
Carved in bark or yet to come
Rivers run low and flow with only sky
Even gods have to die
But once in a while
There’s a god
Even I can see
On ‘Save it for Me,’ as the world is falling apart, and our people fall away, dealing with their own fears and paranoias, he begs her to bring her fears and worries and doubts home to him, arguing, in essence, that love IS the king, and laying out a manifesto for how, at least, the Tweedys will get through this.  That song flows into ‘Guess Again,’ which is a more optimistic song, as he recalls his love with Susan:

Oh, tomatoes right off the line
We used to eat them like that all the time
And if you think that’s the best thing
That I ever knew
Guess again, my love
It’s you.
Riding with the wind blowing in my hair
And the sun shining down everywhere
And if you think that’s the best thing
That I can do
Guess again, my love
Guess again, my love
It’s for you.
There’s something very heart-warming about this album, that despite his fears, terrors, and all the things that go bump in the night, Jeff Tweedy’s world revolves around his wife, and, by extension his family.  This is a statement of love, the entire album, Tweedy’s love of life, of the world, even, of his wife, and of his sons, and his family as a whole.  In a lot of ways, it’s hard to tell the difference between a Tweedy solo album and a Wilco one, and this one, musically, at least, is no exception.  But, lyrically, this could only be a solo album, one produced by Tweedy and his two sons.