It’s been a meditative past couple of weeks for two of rock’s great songwriters, Bruce Springsteen and Jeff Tweedy. The former spent the majority of his new album Letter To You rustling with time as if it were a pile of leaves, and unraveling life’s intricacies with a prudent flair.
Tweedy’s music also benefits from enduring wisdom and carefully-penned sketches of lived-in experiences. As a happily-married husband, who’s also a part of a musically-talented family (both of his kids assist him with vocals and production), Tweedy finds solace in simplicity. The premise of his new book, How To Write One Song, fixates solely on the natural relationship between the artist and their music. Part of the book’s bio reads, “the idea of becoming a capital-S songwriter can seem daunting, but approached as a focused, self-contained event, the mystery and fear subsides, and the songwriting becomes an exciting pursuit.”
On his newest album Love Is the King, Tweedy encapsulates his own passion for songwriting with a wary jurisdiction. Very rarely are there moments of tangled discord, as most tracks quiver with a sullen warmth. There’s brief moments of personal tension, but for the most part, Tweedy is content with highlighting the more skeletal side of his calligraphy; and the happiest emotions that come with it.
This particular creative direction liberates the 53-year-old from normal industry pressure, thus allowing him to concentrate on what’s important. His wife tends to spiritually drive this album’s narrative, which results in some of Tweedy’s most heartwarming love letters to date. “Even I Can See” explicitly circulates love’s purest inflections. Tweedy pares this massive concept down to its core elements with affectionate vignettes and wholehearted delicacies (“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”).
His lovestruck euphoria subtly breaches the tender acoustic numbers more than a few times on this album. For example, “Guess Again’s” spaced-out chorus and foot-tapping strums offer a feathery intimacy. You can picture Tweedy admiring his family at the kitchen table while writing these lyrics-“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 a certain level of awareness when it comes to Tweedy’s current mental state on Love Is the King. He doesn’t take much for granted, as emphasized on songs like “Natural Disaster” and “Bad Day Lately.” In these moments, Tweedy admits that being confined to one place isn’t always a great concept (especially outside of songwriting). The language he uses in the latter song seemingly apprehends the social deficiencies of quarantine. “Natural Disaster” meanwhile, finds the Wilco lead singer re-enforcing those ideas of connection, while simultaneously being content with only what’s necessary in his own life. There’s a hint of wittiness in his comparison of falling in love to a natural disaster, which ultimately adds a bit of dimension to the overall project.
The production, for all of its pillowy sweetness, does get repetitive by the final third of Love Is the King. Tweedy, who expressed his desire to evoke aesthetics from his favorite 1960s country artists, is fine with utilizing simple rhythms in his acoustic numbers. The title track for example is a good leeway into the album’s blissful energy, but also feels unfinished in the way the guitar peacefully glides across four minutes of air time. The finale “Half-Asleep” also suffers from the same inconsequential stupor.
For the most part though, Tweedy effectively seizes his contemplative persona as a happily-married man with two talented children. He’s humbly ecstatic about his present state, but also wise enough to know that a natural disaster could strike at any moment. This understanding alone is why he’s been so successful for so long.