Love Is King, 180G Clear Vinyl LP, See Also: Wilco
It’s conceivable that Jeff Tweedy was in a better position than most musicians to thrive creatively while sheltering in place. Locked down with his family, he could call upon his sons Spencer and Sammy for musical support, and they all could head over to the Loft, the private studio that Tweedy and Wilco built over 20 years ago and maintain to this day. In addition to having access to gear and supporting musicians, the singer-songwriter also benefited greatly from a regular, reliable writing method, one that he documents in How to Write One Song, a book published concurrently with the release of Love Is the King.
Separating Love Is the King from How to Write One Song may be impossible. Tweedy began composing songs for the album while at work on his songwriting handbook, using some of his freshly minted tunes to illuminate particular points of his process. Real-time insight into the writing and recording of a new rock album is rare enough to make this book unique, but How to Write One Song is decidedly not a set of liner notes to Love Is the King. It’s a manifesto advocating the power of everyday creativity, imploring the reader to look at songwriting not as divine inspiration but rather as a practical craft: Assemble the parts, learn how to use the tools at your disposal, toil away for a set amount of time on a daily basis, and it becomes feasible to finish one song; after that, perhaps one more. Love Is the King is a testament to the virtues of this creative approach. Tweedy’s method is designed to sustain a songwriter through dry spells while also doubling as a journal of the moment; such a technique is surely beneficial when grappling with the existential stresses generated by a global pandemic.
Love Is the King contains no attempts at grand pronouncements on the state of the world in lockdown. Rather, it’s a series of vignettes, secular hymns, and snapshots, all loosely arranged around the notion of human connection. Nothing moves too fast here. “Gwendolyn” ambles along to a groove that’s just a shade soulful, “Opaline” moseys ahead with a slight grin, and “Natural Disaster” is a shambling bit of country-rock that stands out not only for its rhythm but also for how its sardonic view of love cuts against the warm sentiments that flow through the record. Warmth doesn’t preclude the presence of loneliness or worry. The gravity of isolation weighs down the narrator of “Bad Day Lately” and self-doubt nags at the heart of “Troubled,” but there’s a recurring theme of the solace and sustenance to be found within lasting love. It surfaces on the hushed “Even I Can See,” whose pivotal verse hinges on finally being able to view the presence of a god through the love of his wife, and in the murmured devotions floating throughout the semi-narcotic thrum of “Half-Asleep.” -Pitchfork