To be honest, a lot of the criticism on Jeff Tweedy has been so stupid, for lack of a better term, lately, that it’s almost impossible to imagine any of it materializing into a sound analysis and appreciation for the emotive things he’s doing these days, almost turning the payment of any media attention to him into a lost cause.
Ok, maybe I’m overreacting here, but for Rolling Stone to make him defend doing a solo album, as it were, as if such a thing were such a strange direction for his artistic expression to take, is to me just an abominable a**hole move. In a September interview, Rolling Stone, that is, asked the question “Why is Tweedy, who has never done a proper solo album, doing one now, rather than releasing songs with Wilco?” Well, I have no idea why Sukierae wouldn’t qualify as a “proper solo album”… maybe Rolling Stone picked up some special, groovy vibes from Gorillaz or Greta Van Fleet that told them those albums had something wrong with them, or maybe this has to do with the Me Too movement, or something. Anyway, despite the fact that his bandmates Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche have each released solo albums of their own within the last two years, they claim that it’s strange for the SINGER to wield a creative impetus away from his band. That is, so we’re told to believe. Amusingly, Rolling Stone seems to have thrown together a sort of sandbag auxiliary Tweedy interview a couple days ago, perhaps as a way of atoning for the bizarre compunction displayed by the initial journalist on this assignment.
All in all, this considered, and at the end of the day WARM is just about what you’d expect it to be. That is, Sukierae was in its own right really organic, satisfying and inspired, but appropriately, this new album takes a slightly cozy, campfire turn, with intimate production that accentuates every little wood-block percussion swatch, every vibration of acoustic guitar and note of the lap steel, and most importantly, every crack of Tweedy’s worn, slightly anxious voice.
I’d had the idea for this article to instead of doing a simple, straight-forward review, compile a sort of comparison-contrast to Neil Young’s Harvest, since especially in the case of WARM closeur “How Will I Find You?,” for which mental relations to “Out on the Weekend” seem almost inevitable, identical drum beat and comparable emotional feel right in tow. But the two albums are such apples and oranges, obviously, with WARM playing more like a reverse-rebellion, a retrograde anachronism of stylistic bareness within this current age of such overproduced rock, rather than the immersion of folk-rock into the mainstream which transpired on the commercially successful Harvest.
This is of course, not to say, that the production hands on WARM are amateurish, or that they just lazily slopped together some living room album like Beck’s Mellow Gold. I looked online to see where this album was recorded at, actually, completely forgetting that Tweedy owns his own studio in Chicago called The Loft (gee, why would he record a solo album there?) I guess that would make that the shoe-in for most likely production locale. Although Wikipedia credits Tweedy with sole production rights, Bandcamp lists Tom Schick as co-producer and Bob Ludwig as in charge of mastering, and indeed, WARM does sound like an expertly spiced dish of angular sounds and sophisticated textures – about the furthest thing from banal folk retroism as you could get. “Having Been is No Way to Be,” for one, is a da** near flawless recording, with this big and boisterous acoustic guitar dogging Tweedy’s direct, earnest vocals and some background instrument riding on its back with perfect rhythmic accuracy. So compressed is this mix, actually, while still sounding organic, that I can’t even tell what it is – at one point it sounds like maybe a pipe organ played on a low register, at another a second guitar. But this is an album put together with the bareness of A Ghost is Born and the relentlessly entertaining texture of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which is to say, it sounds really da** good.
Author George Saunders is attached to a quote of rather effusive praise for WARM on the album’s Bandcamp page and appropriately enough, he seems to emphasize the lyrics as the album’s primary draw. Well, part of me is tempted to go along with this, with certain little zoomed-in life examinations emerging as memorable. The album gets going, trooping along with an acoustic-and-steel combination and a folky trot, with “Bombs above,” sung in a raw and weary voice and with an account of an old drunk man who told him “Suffering for everyone is the same”. The fixation on aging and dying continues on “Don’t Forget” with the declaration that “Everyone thinks about dying sometimes / Don’t let it kill you”. WARM is a melancholy album perfect for the time of year it was released, in other words, moving along cohesively and always offering just enough of a guitar arsenal to sidestep things getting monochromatic or stagnant.
Now, I have to admit, I have not checked out Jeff Tweedy’s memoir yet that just came out. I’m an ardent Wilco fan, as it were, as well as that of Greg Kot’s brilliant band biography Wilco: Learning How to Die, an illuminating story that made me fasten a firm hatred to Tweedy’s former bandmate Jay Farrar. And then just knowing Tweedy, he’ll be too humble and professional in his memoir to really make Farrar known as the impish egomaniac that he is, kicking Tweedy out of Uncle Tupelo and then allowing this rivalry to boil between the two musicians thereafter. Well, I don’t think there’s any question at this point as to who’s the more vital musician, and I feel perfectly content with letting WARM reside as the prominent artist statement of this year, a fully formed LP which is not his first great solo album, an indulgent solo project which takes the best aspects of the bare, acoustic Schmilco and infuses them with a focus and an intimacy all the more rewarding and meaningful.