By Josh Kirk
Wilco is known as one of rock music’s most inventive bands. Adored by critics and fans alike, the Chicago-based band has been able to create a unique blending of sounds and overcome several obstacles, including being dropped by their former label, Reprise Records, but most importantly, the struggles of their acclaimed front-man and lead singer Jeff Tweedy.
Throughout his life, Tweedy has suffered various problems such as migraines, depression, and even an opioid addiction. He’s also had some tough relationships with important people in his life such as his alcoholic father and his fellow band-mate and friend, Jay Farrar. If you want to truly dive into Tweedy’s life, check out his provocative and brilliant new book, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back).
His latest solo album, “WARM,” technically acts as a companion piece to his book, dishing out some of Tweedy’s most direct songwriting to date. Now, unlike the experimental tendencies of his full-time band, Wilco, “WARM” is a stripped-back, introspective folk-rock record with him playing almost all of the instruments, except for the drums, which are provided by his oldest son, Spencer Tweedy.
Rather than creating a gap in between Wilco albums, the bare-bones quality of the album only allows Tweedy’s lyrical talent to shine even more. The album’s opener, “Bombs Above,” gets right to the point. Tweedy starts out by apologizing for not doing enough to “stop the war” and later in the track, he directly quotes his father in the line, “suffering is the same for everyone.” He then admittedly claims that he was wrong to agree with his father’s point.
On the second track and lead single, “Some Birds,” he croon’s “some birds just sit useless like fists. I wrestle on TV but no one ever lets me win,” showing his beautiful poetry. Also, it’s hard to not to agree with the lyric, “any fool can tell the truth.” In the song’s lovely chorus, he tells his demons to go down where he won’t see them anymore. I also really like the track’s jangly guitar melodies, syncopation of instruments and twangy, crackling guitar solo.
“Don’t Forget” is a pep talk for Tweedy’s wife, Susie Miller, telling her how to cope with the thought of death. It’s only fitting the song reflects on the actual funeral for his late father, who died in 2017. The song is a truly gorgeous stand-out from “WARM.”
On track number six, “From Far Away,” Tweedy seems to be singing to his father’s ghost, commanding him to not bury him when he dies and to take all the things he doesn’t need, which includes–get this–old photographs of him with his father. He sings very softly on here but very beautifully over atmospheric, calming sounds.
Another selling point for Tweedy on this record is his newfound confidence. His vocal performance on track number five, “Let’s Go Rain,” is the emotional powerhouse that was somewhat lacking on Wilco’s last two albums, 2015’s “Star Wars,” and 2016’s “Schmilco.” The vocals are a perfect vehicle for Tweedy’s witty, smart poetry, which also includes a reference to Scott McCaughey, front-man for the pop-rock band, The Minus 5. The song has an excellent upbeat alt-country vibe that’s highly endearing.
His confidence also shows on the catchy pop-rocker “I Know What It’s Like.” The song pulls you in with an incredible, timeless melody when you first lay ears on it. Thematically, the song deals with the times where Tweedy’s peers felt a little betrayed by him but he reassures those people that he actually really cares about them. Probably his most satisfying lyrics on the entire record are from the title track, “Warm (When the Sun Has Died).” On the track, he sings “I don’t believe in heaven/I keep some heat inside/Like a red brick in the summer/Warm when the sun has died,” a beautiful thesis statement for the album.
The only major flaws of his record are actually the moments where Tweedy tries to pay homage to what he usually does with Wilco. On the album’s worst track, “The Red Brick,” the lyrics seem more half-baked with the exception of the second verse, which sees him becoming his father and adopting his drinking habits. Also, the ending instrumental sounds very badly recorded, which is funny considering the high-quality loft studio in which it was recorded.
The album’s closing track, “How Will I Find You?,” is a much better song overall, but does drag on a for a little too long. However, I will give that song kudos for Glenn Kotche’s intricate drumming and the simple lyrical sentiment when Tweedy wonders if his father’s spirit will find him again.
As a whole, “WARM” stands out as Tweedy’s strongest and most intriguing album in over a decade (Wilco albums included). Though not as groundbreaking as masterpieces like 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” the Chicago-based singer-songwriter truly has a bright future ahead of him. He’s improved as a singer, and he seems braver and more open to discussing his tortured past and troubled relationships. Now, let’s hope he brings these songwriting skills to the next Wilco album.
Final Score: 8.7 / 10