Published Oct 22, 2020Wilco vocalist Jeff Tweedy, backed up by his sons Sammy and Spencer, spends most of the pandemic-produced, Love Is the King, crying out from the new wilderness of self. The vibe is folk, rock, country and kind of homespun and laidback but, like early John Lennon records, there is sharpness to the starkness.
To counter anxiety and chaos, some long for parameters that might help them focus. In keeping with his endearingly useful new book, How to Write One Song, Tweedy and his boys strove to compose and record a single song a day in Wilco's own Chicago studio, the Loft. Far from scrappy, each of these tunes feels fresh with the spark of invention, while also revealing something about the players; their raw instincts are on display — their feelings as musicians and as people.
Jeff has been playing with words a lot more as of late but seems particularly drawn to economic, efficient language, finding poetry in stretched out syllables that make existence last a little longer. See the countrified "Opaline" and its vivid, to-the-point scenes: "There's nothing worse / than a hearse / driving slow." Hurry up, death! I've got end of the road rage!
The mortality mania continues on "A Robin or a Wren," which also skews sonically to Tweedy's country music past and reflects upon not wanting to die. "Even I Can See" is more plaintive — an ode to his wife and a lifetime of love, which is, most unexpectedly, under external threat. The record has lovely acoustic instrumentation, but there are also playfully upbeat arrangements like "Natural Disaster," which sounds like late-'60s Dylan taking a twirl with late-'70s Neil. Again though, it's a song where the analogy is that love is a natural disaster. Some dark stuff.
Imagine writing one song a day during April 2020 when there's a pandemic raging and nobody knows what's going to happen or how to live anymore; you'd probably play a lot of sick guitar solos with your kids, taking some joy in the wildness and the comfort of such a dynamic, but mostly, you'd sing your new sad songs fairly evenly, fearful that too much emotion might somehow provoke the virus.
Instead, you try to chill, whistling while you work (literally) and appreciating that when there's no choice in the matter; love rules all and that's got to be enough for Jeff Tweedy when the world falls apart. (dBpm)