WARM plays more personally than much of Tweedy’s work.
With memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy puts himself in a reflective mode. As he works through his history and his thoughts on songwriting, a vision for connection and expression comes through. New solo album WARM grows out of that mindset. Tweedy shifts into the late era of his career (though we can wish for another 40 years of it) with some somber reflection on death, relationships, addiction, religion and other light matters. Lyrically accessible without being straightforward, the album allows Tweedy self-disclosure on both past and present, and offers insight into his way of seeing things as he moves forward.
He shapes much of his vision around thoughts of the afterlife (or possible lack thereof). Tweedy explains across the album, “I don’t believe in heaven” and “I used to be a Christian” (he’s converted to Judaism) before explaining, “I didn’t know I didn’t need to know.” The latter thoughts come from “Let’s Go Rain,” an oddly jaunty tune somewhere between Uncle Tupelo and Woody Guthrie. Tweedy jokes throughout the track, leaving the title phrase as an ambivalent chorus that either (both) asks for loving destruction or taunts precipitating religion. The song both laughs and pleads, raising ideas more than resolving issues.
Tweedy says in his book that these songs grew out of his desire to sing “what exactly I would like to say directly to someone…with the intention of telling someone something I want them to know about myself.” This self-expression contains many parts, but the organizing of them says something, too. Given the limits set by his spiritual sentiments, the transcendental parts of the music must rise elsewhere, and they do so primarily in his gratitude and community. The former comes primarily in the fact that he’s still here, and so is his family. “Don’t Forget” meditates on the small moments that make something bigger, and the need to not let worrying about dying kill you.
The communal nature of the album develops naturally, starting with folk-rock opener “Bombs Above.” Tweedy sings that a man once told him, “Suffering is the same/ For everyone/ He was right/ But I was wrong/ To agree.” It’s a difficult moment of self-awareness, a recognition of the challenges of understanding others and of entering into their pain. The moody, demanding “The Red Brick” and the slow “Warm (When the Sun Has Died)” work as a pair. “Warm” ends with a description of a religious “heat inside/ Like a red brick in the summer/ Warm when the sun has died.” The imagery makes sense, a source of heat maintained (though in denial of the original source of warmth), offering a sense of individual energy. The “red brick,” though, references the previous track, a desperate and dangerous experience of longing. Tweedy shifts through ideas about individual strength and communal needs, never quite settling, except when he acknowledges healthy connections to those around him, as in “Having Been Is No Way to Be.”
That sort of mindset does have further sorting and resolution on the album. “Some Birds” introduces the brick imagery (here being broken) and shudders over the suicide rate in “the countrysides.” A potential unity fails, but Tweedy deals with some of his own issues the best he can. The album closes with the steady pace of “How Will I Find You?” and it is spare folk enhanced with small flourishes. The singer’s desire for connection comes through, even if it’s reliant on another’s knowledge. The title phrase also plays on two meanings—“how can I reach you?” versus “what condition will you be in when I see you?”—adding a layer of ambiguity to the track that fits more with Tweedy’s penchant for allowing music and images, rather than denotation, to direct a song’s meaning.
Even with ample ambiguity, WARM plays more personally than much of Tweedy’s work, an experienced enhanced by seeing these songs connect to his autobiography (both his father and wife make undetailed but effective appearances in his lyrics). The album drifts out into a dream of reconnection, but Tweedy sounds focused. WARM marks not so much a new direction for him, but a new understanding of the value of revelation, continuing not just from his prose writing but from works like Schmilco and Sukierae. Some of his earlier opacity now comes as a fitting sense of searching, and it adds rewarding gravitas to a relatively low-key and accurately-titled album.