Which came first, the goose or the gander — the sense of humor or the persona?
My first impression upon spinning disc 1 of Sukierae, the two-disc solo collection of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (just “Tweedy” here), was wow, it’s punk, this guy likes punk. Not to say Wilco necessarily became the “anti-punk” in their years of full artistic flourishing… I mean none of us can really see inside the muse of a heroin addict, but suffice it to say Yankee Hotel Foxtrot treats punk like some hobo out on the street with glass shards sticking out of its head — it wants nothing to do with it, at least stylistically, in the music itself. Punk is about abandon, YHF pleas “It’s become so obvious / You are so oblivious to yourself.”
So the primary influences I hear right away on track one “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood” are The Folk Implosion and Lit… yes, Lit. Hey, he’s clearly his own worst enemy, and apropos of what’s probably the reason I’m writing about this guy in the first place, I have no idea how he thinks.
But the country dialect is there (“country-punk”?), which is another, separate issue worthy of discussion. There’s having an accent, which Tweedy does only to a marginal extent, by greater Chicago area standards, and then there’s having a PERSONA which would MAGNIFY any minute traces of said accent, for some artistic ploy. The inner COUNTRY is exhibited purposely on “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood,” and the result is actually the same sort of “implosive” things we get with a lot of other lo-fi acts: a palpable sense of spontaneous abandon, a CERTAINTY that one doesn’t like what oneself is, but nevertheless has no choice but to be this very thing, stuck within this social netherworld. Still, it’s clear that he’s wearing it on his sleeve, deliberately, and we all raise our glass in the grace of uniqueness.
Undoubtedly, Jeff Tweedy became a “rock star” through the course of his career, and this is part of how I thought about his operation here as I listened to it, but I realized right away that even all by himself, he artistically entrenched in stardom, and comfortable there. While not taking such an iconic pride in such practices, he probably too listened to Please Please Me 30 times before writing “Wait for Love,” just like Kurt Cobain did before “About a Girl,” and really the two songs are about as good as each other, though the former is thoroughly Midwestern — patient, melodic rockabilly, having no choice but to believe in an overarching, Beatles-esque beauty, with much from help from love itself.
Elsewhere, the Califone guitar influence looms large (we gotcher regional sound right here, Seattle), as on “Pigeons,” and Tweedy’s overall m.o. remains unclear — he seems, and to archetypally endearing extent to boot — subject to mood swings and wild thrusts of inspiration, and one song seems to have little to do with the others, thematically, or often, musically. Things are tastefully understated — this is without question a singer/songwriter at work, an understander of artistic lyrical STATEMENTS to supersede band histrionics.
The songs begin to beautifully mesh into one another on the MBV-harkening wooze of “Slow Love,” and brilliant production that sounds like the work of Brian Deck guides our ear drums into incandescence with eschewed, ambient organ, followed by subtle, but brick-heavy, basic Crazy Horse drums.
Listening to the entirety of even just disc 1, it’s puzzling as to why this album didn’t become a bigger online sensation. In this way, it’s directly opposite post-YHF Wilco in every way: it’s actually not hyped as this Papal Bull of rhapsody, but it delivers on each track with no fluff. Also, like a Califone album, it warps the listener’s sense of music itself, making statements with each and every instrument alike, piano included, and prominently, and also with the sequencing itself, which keeps things fresh, but most importantly, at least in some way, unattainable. It could have been a solid to semi-great album with just Tweedy and his guitar; as it stands in its finality, I like its shot at becoming an irreplaceable bulwark of the Chicago music canvas, like what the “Summer Teeth” dig into when nobody’s watching.