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Posted at 1:15 PM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Please explain to me ... Jeff Tweedy

By Chris Richards

jeff tweedyIs Jeff Tweedy a legend-in-the-making or the king of safe-rock? (Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

This year, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco joined the ranks of Prince and Bob Dylan, not as a Great American Songwriter, but as the latest guy to produce some really cool music for Mavis Staples.

But many have considered Tweedy a G.A.S. ever since Wilco's defining album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" landed in 2001. In my ears, that disc still has all the charm and verve of particle board.

Why do so many people adore this man? What am I not hearing in his songs? What's so great about his voice? Why will so many fans crowd the Lincoln Theatre when he plays a solo gig there this evening?

Please explain Jeff Tweedy in the comments and/or vote in our poll.

By Chris Richards  | December 7, 2010; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Please explain to me  | Tags:  Jeff Tweedy, Wilco  
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I'm a fan who has never completely gotten "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" either. Great songs, but the arrangements and production somehow put a damp towel on the whole enterprise. You have to go back to the earlier stuff -- "A.M." or "Summerteeth." Tweedy has one of those weirdly intimate voices (like Lou Reed or Sinatra) where you feel like he's sitting in the car seat next to you.

Posted by: amyargetsinger | December 7, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

You bought into the Y.H.F. 'great work' myth. My least favorite Wilco album.

As always with good musicians, their live work far exceeds the studio efforts.

Find the live shows....

Posted by: JkR- | December 7, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't own YHF so can't comment on its merits. I like Tweedy because he's original, devoted to his craft, and cares about his audience. I happen to think Wilco is a great live band - when I listen to Wilco, I listen to their live recordings or stream the lastest concert offering from their website. And I like them because they're based in Chicago, which we natives of the Midwest appreciate.

Posted by: ikeaboy | December 7, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Quite a good question.

I was/am a bigger fan of Uncle Tupelo then either Tweedy or Farrar after they went their seperate ways.

If I had to pick one or the other I'd go with Farrar strictly for his band work with Son Volt - especially the first two offerings.

Wilco has always been an enigma to me (I saw them years ago in London at the Astoria) and the live show actually did very little for me. I certainly appreciate all the Wilco offering prior to YHF but that disc never did a lick of good with me. I can't break down why but I grew away from them after that - it was certanly a media blitz/darling at the time.

Tweedy still holds some sway for me in the end. Maybe a 'B' on my grading metre of preferences. Farrar (with band) would be a B+. (Farrar solo is nearly miserable for me.)

That was long. Was it an answer? Who knows....

Posted by: saintex | December 7, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

This is by far the most thoughtful and considerate edition of "Please explain to me..." we've ever had here on Click Track! Keep these thoughts coming. Maybe I'll see the light... or not.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | December 7, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse


I have but three words: How. Dare. You.

Tweedy is my Bob Dylan -- unintelligible lyrics that I spend days trying to understand.

Don't take that from me.

Posted by: Chris Cillizza | December 7, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I started liking Wilco with A Ghost is Born, and I do not like YHF. I remember my college roommate playing it in our apartment, and just cringing.

Posted by: detta8881 | December 7, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm a big Wilco fan, but have never really "gotten" their albums until I see them perform live. I haven't seen them since "Wilco (The Album)" came out, so I'm not really tuned into it.

I just find that my appreciation for the interplay and layering of the different members of the band is much better when I see them on stage. It should probably click before that, but that always seems to elevate stuff I like to stuff I love.

And, while I think this incarnation of the band lineup is my favorite, Disc 1 of "Being There" will always be my favorite Wilco recording. Pick that apart at will.

Posted by: del_b_vista | December 7, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Uhhhg, Wilco.

I feel like enjoying Wilco would erode my enjoyment of music, irrevocably.

Tweedy is lamebait, eternally outside the metaphysical venn diagram labeled "cool" - but it's cool if you like it...

Posted by: Mat_ | December 7, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

As a fan of both Wilco and Q & Not U, I want to weigh in here :)

I was a big Wilco fan for a long time, but not so much anymore. I do enjoy YHF, but not as much as Summerteeth, which predated indie's Beach Boys fascination by 6 or 7 years and is genuinely outstanding. About half of A Ghost is Born is alright, though the O'Rourke partnership on that album didn't work as well as I had hoped. After that, it's straight up Dad-rock. Sky Blue Sky is what drying paint sounds like.

The Jay Bennett-era Wilco albums (Being There, Summerteeth, and YHF) are certainly the best in the canon and worth a re-listen to see if you might find something in them - Summerteeth in particular. Chris, knowing your taste, you might dig some of the noise and rhythmic things on AGIB as well.

I don't think Tweedy is a "GAS". Like Bowie, he is outstanding with good collaborators. Bennett's twisted pop sensibilities were really perfect for him. Uncle Tupelo is excellent too, a band that was greater than the sum of its parts. The only people who like Jay Farrar's solo stuff are the No Depression traditionalist types, because they value formality and consistency, and since Farrar writes and performs the same song over and over again, it works out for everyone.

Posted by: gocaps2 | December 7, 2010 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Just returned from the Tweedy show at the Lincoln Theater. I'm a big fan of the entire Wilco catalog, and therefore bristled at your suggestion that Tweedy is the king of "safe-rock." After tonight's show, however, I now agree that may be a good description. The show was a diluted version of "Sunken Treasure." It was over at 10:30. Pretty weak. The next Wilco record had better rage, or I'll need to turn my attention elsewhere. Come on Jeff. You represent the hardworking folks from Belleville Illinois. Stop trying to sell me fancy yuppie coffee, and get back to your rock & roll roots.

Posted by: beatty81 | December 8, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Interesting Bowie comparison. The last couple Wilco releases are painfully dull but for Nils Klein's guitar work, just as Jay Bennett was essential to the band's ST/YHF sound. Also, while he's not nearly the chameleon that Bowie is, I do credit Tweedy for putting out records that don't all sound like his first major success. (Of course the comparison breaks down completely when you get to Bowie's personae.) Undoubtedly some will call it sacrilege but how about Neil Young as an apt comparison? I feel like he brings out the same kind of debate.

Posted by: jzehe | December 8, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

"This is by far the most thoughtful and considerate edition of "Please explain to me..." we've ever had here on Click Track! Keep these thoughts coming. Maybe I'll see the light... or not".

Considerate should only be a response to a considerate original post, not a condescending dripping with sarcasm "my opinions about music are correct while your opinion is stupid, but please share it with me so i can laugh at you" post. The Post seriously PAYS you guys to write such drivel?

Posted by: saco | December 8, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Love this guy..

Tweedy is a younger version of a dying breed.. The great prolific american songwriter (like Springsteen, Steve Earle, Dylan)who tour, write, record and tour again for a living.

Once difference - he better utlizes technology to reach his fans.

Posted by: davidf67 | December 8, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

A.M. to AGIB are 5 incredible records, Jeff has argued extensively that the best art does not have to be created by a tortured soul, as many believe. I offer the timeline of his own work as evidence that the most intriguing art does need to come from a place of pain and tension--- his first five albums (when he was still finding himself and on narcotics) are incredibly interesting while the latest two were average at best by Tweedy standards...If you judge his whole catalog, he is truly a G.A.S. Come on "Passenger Side" "Dash 7" "Shes a Jar", "Via Chicago", "War on War", "Kamera" "Poor Places", "Company in My Back", "Late Greats" these alone put him in the "Great" category...

Posted by: otiswonsley39 | December 8, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

The last couple Wilco releases are painfully dull but for Nils Klein's guitar work, just as Jay Bennett was essential to the band's ST/YHF sound.


This the correct answer. They crested with Summerteeth/YHF and it's been a gradual slide into dad-rock since then.

Posted by: M__N | December 8, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is just like all of Wilco's albums....kind of bland. However, when those songs (or any of their others) are played live, the soar to the heavens. They remind me of the Grateful Dead in that regard. Both bands wrote songs that didn't achieve their full potential until played live.

I always hear people rave about the Summerteeth album and when I finally discovered Wilco (through their live bootlegs), I went back and checked out their studio albums and boy, was the joke on me! Having "grown up" on the live versions of all those songs, the studio versions sounded like a tepid imitation marred by studio trickery and effects.

To fully appreciate brilliance of Tweedy and Wilco, you must see them live.

Posted by: Hazel2 | December 8, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

The ultimate irony of Wilco is that their worst albums (the last 2) are the ones people have been exposed to the most. I have two thoughts about why: the first is the obvious- those are their most poppy, mainstream albums. We see this all the time with groups. The second is that they finally established themselves in the industry over a long period of time and with 4 critically acclaimed albums as their foundation. Sometimes I wonder how popular they would be if their 7 albums were released in reverse order...

They lost their edge after Jay Bennett left and Tweedy cleaned up. My recommendations: listen to Being There and Summerteeth and then watch I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the documentary of the making of YHF. Then tell me you're not a fan!

Posted by: jschmugo | December 8, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I didn't "get" YHF for a long time. Then one day I got it. That has made all the difference.

Cross your fingers, click your boot heels together, and keep listening.

Posted by: Brett10 | December 9, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Jeff is a genuine artist as opposed to a self-conscious kid wanting to be a rock star when he/she grows up--which explains what some may view as uneven work(I call exciting)-- his work is undoubtedly visceral, personal. As any good, no! great artist, he's inspired while musing; Each new work bounces off other works as he probes for a footing to express emotions, experiences, impressions. "War on War" "Ashes of American Flags" as warm up samples, are haunting & strikingly portend events about to unfold. This has been well covered & perhaps you are playing the devil's advocate to garner responses? That's OK cause We're starved for discourse! Besides, the songs(lyrics, singing, music, collaborations)are beautiful! Remember "beauty"? Entwining, unintelligible(though "I get it") lyrics evident in most of Tweedy's work, as Post: Chris Cillizza aptly comments- are beautifully crafted & unpretentious--hallmarks of a G.A.S.

Most exciting of all (if you let yourself do it), you can immerse yourself in the music, lyrics et al -try AGIB, how I was introduced to Wilco. Spiders, Handshake Drugs, Company in My Back for starters & I, too, became a devotee,then explored the dispute the Dad rock arguments, Wilco(the album)has gems- the first 4 songs alone, make a standout album! And then,throughout the canon, listen for the textures, colors--good luck... hope you get it!

Posted by: G_A5 | December 14, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

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