By Phil Scarisbrick
On Love Is The King, Jeff Tweedy buries himself in the universal truths that bind us all, and reminds us why he is one of the finest writers around
Life tends to be full of clichés. As much as we like to feel like we’re different, there are hallmarks of humanity that course through all of us.The thing about clichés though is that they tend to always have an air of truth to them. One of the most commonly used says ‘home is where the heart is’. It is human nature to fight against what is expected, to break conventions and mould an individual existence away from the monotony of stereotype. When it comes to this particular cliché though, it’s hard not to accept. The familiarity of home is a potent force that acts as the last refuge for the lost at sea. It amplifies everything that makes us happy, and it gives us a sense of belonging. It nourishes us.
When a large part of Wilco’s North American tour was abandoned earlier this year, Jeff Tweedy cocooned himself inside The Loft studios in Chicago. Surrounded by treasured instruments and his sons, Spencer and Sammy, he set to work on composing and recording a song a day until they had a finished album. Rather than focusing his muse on the tornado of turmoil that was ripping its way indiscriminately through the outside world, he looked inwards. Fear, separation, vulnerability, nature, gratitude and most of all, the eponymous love all act as the lifeblood of the record.
A Robin or A Wren’s hymn-like feel skips along as the two opposing emotions of joy and despair wrestle with each other for supremacy. On the one hand, he sings ‘I wanna die,’ then does a complete 180 to say ‘I’ll be alive’, before concluding, ‘At the end of the end / Of this beautiful dream we’re in / I’ll wake up again / A robin or a wren’. This kind of juxtaposition is a definite thread that Tweedy pulls throughout Love Is The King. The title track opens the record with a sparse soundtrack underpinning the mood of the conciliatory verse lyrics such as, ‘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,’ with the repeated title chorus offering simple hope above despair. A Neil Young-evoking, uncomfortable guitar solo sounds like Tweedy is wrestling with the strings, as much as he is about the polar opposite emotions.
The one-man-and-a-guitar Even I Can See is one of the most beautiful moments on the record, as Tweedy sings, ‘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’ve found by her side that there’s a God even I can see’. The affection with which he sings wraps you up like the tattered blanket that you use to keep warm on a cold, winter’s night. Familiar and most importantly, yours.
Gwendolyn feels like the lovechild of Lou Reed’s Transformer and Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, with it’s scatty guitar grooves driving between feelings of guilt and a desire to return home. Troubled is exactly that, with its earnest melancholy drifting into the closing Half Asleep, which marries the themes that circle around the rest of the album, before coming to final conclusion – ‘There’s no other / there’s no one / only you.’
In his memoir, Let’s Go, Tweedy says, ‘Music is most magical when everyone can lose the burden of self and be put back together as a part of something bigger, or other. I think of it as egos blending, singer into musician into listener. Something like that feels right to me. Anyway, it’s something worth aiming for.’ Love is The King may be classed as a solo album, but its connection with others goes far deeper than collaboration. He buries himself in the universal truths that bind us all, and reminds us why he is one of the finest writers around.
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