Jeff Tweedy – WARM
Jeff Tweedy's latest album offers a welcome dose of head and heart at a time when both ought to be celebrated a little more
The past, present and uncertain future all stretched before him, WARM finds (and this is not hyperbole) one of America’s greatest songwriters at the peak of his powers…again. Jeff Tweedy can console and bolster his listeners then pour a glass of cold water over their heads within a single line; a modest yet wizardly twinkle in his eye as we ask: How the (insert multiple expletives here) did you do that?
To quote George Saunders, author of the 2017 Man Booker Prize-winning Lincoln in the Bardo and evil genius responsible for this album’s liner notes (shared in advance by The New Yorker) – which are so irritatingly insightful and delightful that this review is almost pre-destined to be trivial in comparison – there is an inherent "Jeffness" to be found within these songs that humbly encourages the listener to find fresh value and intrigue in their surroundings and themselves.
Like Saunders, Tweedy takes mundane, normalised parts of our lives and examines them through a different lens to reveal hidden truths or agendas. Dependency is a concern on Having Been Is No Way to Be: 'What drugs did you take / And why don’t you start taking them again / But they’re not my friends / And if I was dead / What difference would it ever make to them.'
These are songs for the faithful and the uninitiated; universal yet strikingly intimate. It’s easy to envision How Hard It Is For A Desert To Die ('I hear your laugh in my laughter') strummed before a campfire of strangers or a theatre of vintage Uncle Tupelo T-shirts. 'I know what it’s like / Starting over again' Tweedy sings, always on the same level as his audience.
Recorded at The Loft in Chicago (a space many Wilco devotees are likely to characterise as an eighth wonder of the modern world), Tweedy is joined on WARM by his son Spencer, among other long-time collaborators. The timelessness of last year’s acoustic retrospective Together at Last remains, with a little of the experimentation Tweedy is famed for colouring in songs like The Red Brick, which gradually builds from acoustic beginnings to a raucous, bass-driven crescendo.
Saunders states that "great art is really just great personhood in compressed form," and WARM could be the most quintessentially and vibrantly "Jeff" release of Tweedy's career; timely, as his first memoir is also set to arrive this month via Faber & Faber. Tweedy is rarely nostalgic, but he is constructively reflective ('All my life I’ve played a part / In the bombs above') and unflinchingly honest: 'I wonder how much freedom you can dream / And I’m sorry / When you wake up to me.'
WARM offers a welcome dose of head and heart at a time when both ought to be celebrated a little more. As Saunders so ably describes, "Tweedy-tenderness is sophisticated and badass and funny." It's also very, very necessary. Spread it far and wide.
Listen to: Having Been Is No Way to Be, I Know What It's Like, Some Birds