Love is the King, the new record from Jeff Tweedy, is really lazy Saturday music, for when you have nowhere to be and the clocks might as well be busted.
It’s not even lazy Sunday music, the sounds of which are probably a bit more formal. This is music that’s in the background when you sit on the porch and watch some birds because you just don’t feel like doing much. It’s breathing music, sunny and simple Midwestern tunes with roots in the last century.
Love is the King sounds like the result of the Wilco frontman not being able to tour with his big fancy rock band because of a pandemic and not being able to find anything else to do. So, he sat down with his guitars, had his son Spencer sit in on drums, and made his other son, Sammy, sing a few harmonies with Dad.
It’s been that kind of year. And, in that context, it’s not a bad record. But it’s far from Tweedy’s best work.
That is probably an unfair standard, but that’s what happens when you are one of your generation’s greatest, most innovative songwriters.
Jeff Tweedy re-grouped in April in his Chicago loft after Wilco’s tour was cut short and decided to channel whatever he was feeling into writing a song per day. Which is funny, because the result feels anything but rushed.
Some of it sounds like Wilco outtakes, some sound like Jeff Tweedy is returning to his alt-country roots, which isn’t really a thing, because he never abandoned them. He finds some space to stretch his dissonant guitar wings on title track “Love is the King,” with doesn’t hew too different from his brief time as Wilco’s main guitarist after Jay Bennett left.
Maybe more of that was asking too much. It sounds strange, but Tweedy has a natural way of sounding like he’s enduring something. That works here, especially on “Opaline,” which might be catchy enough to be a country single. Very few songwriters mix pain and joy as effectively as Jeff Tweedy. On “A Robin or a Wren,” he comfortably contemplates death, then reincarnation. And it works, with pleasant harmonies from his son.
“Gwendolyn” features a wavy guitar chorus that kind of sucks in your ears, then takes a turn–one of Tweedy’s best tricks with Wilco.
Tweedy really sounds like he’s in his misery zone on “Bad Day Lately,” which shifts into dreamy, sliding guitar backed by a sudden commitment to bass (Tweedy’s work as well).
“Even I Can See” is an ode to his wife of 25 years, Sue Miller. It has a nice–and smart–feel to it. And it can resonate with husbands everywhere. Tweedy just seems so honest on songs like this while transitioning observations into music, and it works. It must be like having a songwriting superpower.
He, of course, takes a turn on next song “Natural Disaster,” when he comes out and says what so many feel: that love is enough of a natural disaster, set to underrated guitar playing, giving him the aura of an un-mined country star. “Guess Again” features some steel guitar that, on this record, acts like Tweedy’s favorite color in case he doesn’t know what else to paint. It appropriately fills the background.
That probably could be said of the whole record. Though, by the end, you might be asleep on the porch. “Troubled” almost sounds meandering enough to be a Wilco song that wasn’t finished, and last song “Half-Asleep” is … well, perfectly named.
Follow music critic Tony Hicks at Twitter.com/TonyBaloney1967.