Review Summary: When you need me, I'll be there
As the frontman of Wilco, Jeff Tweedy needs no formal introduction. At this point in his career, he seems to have built something of an infallible empire: his best works, including last year’s subtly brilliant Ode to Joy
, remind us of how high his ceiling can be while his floor consists primarily of resilient, enduring works that are lacking only in name recognition. His solo career has been almost as consistent as his one with Wilco, as Tweedy has released an LP every year going back to 2017. Love Is The King
comes to us as comfort food in a year where very little is dependable. It might not seem like much, but Tweedy’s got your back: Love Is The King
is weathered and patient, rarely effusive, and entirely demonstrative of its namesake. It’s a warm embrace.
Smack in the center of Love Is The King
, Tweedy begins ‘Even I Can See’ as if addressing a large audience: “If I may have your attention please / I'll tell you about my wife and what she means to me.” This is the sort of passage that defines Love Is The King
, a record in touch with both the world and Tweedy’s inner emotions at the same time. He puts the onus on the prevailing forces of good, whether it’s finding acceptance through a kindred soul (“I was never one who needed to believe, in a god hard to find / But I found by her side, there's a god evеn I can see”) or overcoming rampant violence (“The tanks in the streets…Green and grey, violent and still / Spinning above stones and slings / When push comes to shove, love is the king”). Recorded alongside his sons Spencer and Sam during the pandemic, themes of familiarity and inward retreat abound, Love Is The King
unfolds like a black-and-white home movie – which turns out to be a lot easier to connect with during these times than the purposefully histrionic. Understated folk is always where Tweedy has thrived, and Love Is The King
continues that time-honored tradition.
Again, there’s nothing here that greatly deviates from Tweedy’s previous three solo works or Wilco’s subtle formulas. Acoustic guitars shimmer and fade emotively, the drums tap into an earthy aesthetic, and Jeff’s voice delivers passive melodies that gradually absorb rather than assertively grip. He effectively balances pluckier Americana with glistening reprieves, refusing to ever settle for moments of intrigue that aren’t earned. It makes Love Is The King
less captivating on the surface, but more rewarding over time as its intricacies slowly win you over. Highlights are evasive, but only because the atmosphere is so even. The best moments don’t come when the music bids for anything grand, but rather when it is unassuming enough to allow for accentual instrumentation (most often an electric guitar riff, or more sparsely a whistled ditty) and lyrical gems to float to the surface. If you listened to Warmer
or Ode to Joy
, nothing here will come as much of a surprise – but that’s part of the record’s charm as well as a sign of Tweedy’s continued maturation and the refinement of his craft.
There’s a line on this album where Jeff sings, “They say no work of art is ever donе” and it feels applicable to his entire career. Tweedy’s output between Wilco and his solo recordings has been prolific, and even as his creative curve has flattened in recent years, it feels less like stagnation and more like Jeff arriving at a home stretch. He’s crafting songs at a studio he built himself with his family, and is now in COVID-induced isolation. Perhaps under different circumstances Love Is The King
would be more vulnerable to criticism for its lack of diversity and experimentation, but right now, it resides at a perfect intersection of lifeline-like consistency and volatile external circumstances. Grab hold of Tweedy’s never-ending life’s work and feel the love.
When the world falls apart I can say with certainty
There's a reason
A light left on in an empty room
Is how a love can be