There are two ways of listening to this album – one as a stand alone solo record, the latest in a long line of such breakaway releases by lead singers which are broadly fine but mostly serve to highlight why the band they front is so important to them. The other is as a labour of love.
The latter becomes clear when you learn a little about how Love is The King came to be. Forced to return home following the cancellation of Wilco’s North American tour, Jeff Tweedy and his two sons bunkered down and set themselves a task – write a song a day until they had an album. This is, basically, a lockdown album. Through that prism, the album takes on a whole new form. No longer is it the arrogant strutting of a selfish frontman, it is now the tender introspection of a man and his two sons, looking inward at a time when the outer world has gone mad.
With that knowledge, Love Is The King is unlocked.
Lyrically, the record ranges from the sublime – “every day’s a bad day lately” – to the ridiculous – “the sun came up, like a piece of toast” – but never strays too far from a central premise – that whilst things are going crazy outside, we need to rely on what we have and be there for each other – “when you need me, I’ll be there”. Another ever present theme is love. Not generic, pop-star hot pink love but the intensely specific love of a man singing about his wife – this is perhaps most noticeable on ‘Even I Can See’ – “If I may have your attention please / I’ll tell you about my wife and what she means to me” and ‘Guess Again’ – “And if you think that’s the best thing I’ll ever do, Guess again, It’s you”.
What makes this so touching is that Tweedy’s two sons were so heavily involved in the writing and recording process. This is an album about a wife and a mother, written by her husband and two sons.
That said, were this not a ‘lockdown album’, it could easily be dismissed. Some tracks pass by largely unnoticed and, in order to access the rest of the album, the listener does have to endure one of the worst guitar solos ever towards the end of opening track ‘Love Is The King’. Apparently played through a broken Echoplex pedal and nicknamed “that guy”, seemingly the intention of the solo was to alert the listener to ‘the hand of what lies outside the room’. Instead, what it does is risk turning people away from a delicate record by creating difficult noise on the opening track.
But, with the caveat in place that we are all doing what we can in difficult times, and that “that guy” is unavoidable for us all, Jeff Tweedy and his family have produced a sweet, caring, tender record which is a result of modern times, but not about them.