A Panel of Middle-Aged Dads Reviews the New Tweedy Album

Jeff and son Spencer Tweedy.
Jeff Tweedy and son Spencer. Piper Ferguson/dBpm Records. Piper Ferguson/dBpm Records

Several years ago—somewhere between 2007’s Sky Blue Sky and 2009’s Wilco (The Album), let’s say—Jeff Tweedy and his band Wilco faced a new charge. The music, breezy and comfortable and so far removed from the electronic squiggles of 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, still amply satisfied legions of the band’s followers. But among critics and some fans as well, it was attracting a new descriptor. It was being pegged as “dad rock.”

No one quite grasps what the term means, least of all the many dads I interviewed about it last Father’s Day. (Succinctly, one Urban Dictionary entry describes it as “music that Boomers would listen to and/or write themselves,” adding: “Inherently uncool.”) But no matter. Tweedy, ever unflappable, kept calm and publicly defended the label. And now he has embraced it anew, embodying dad rock as fully as any rock star has by literally recording an album with his son, 18-year-old drummer Spencer, as “Tweedy.”

Titled Sukierae, the result is out this week. Already, it has drawn the usual stock of jokes.

But the music—is it really so dad-friendly? I performed an experiment: I asked my dad to invite several of his fellow music-liking dad-friends over to the house, where I would hold a dad-themed listening party and see how the dad-rock focus group responded. The participants:

  • Gary, 62: “I am familiar with Wilco absolutely. I don’t really view them as dad rock.” Favorite acts include Neil Young and Frank Zappa. Self-described “eclectic collector, ranging from classic rock to jazz to emerging artists.”
  • Jay, 54: Vaguely familiar with Wilco. Favorite acts include Bruce Springsteen and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
  • Mitch, 59: Very familiar with Wilco. Favorite acts besides Wilco include the Decemberists and Ryan Adams—“depends on the day of the week.”
  • Steven, 59: Familiar with Wilco “but not seriously familiar.” Favorite acts include Springsteen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello.
  • Brian, 49: Not familiar with Wilco at all. Favorite acts include Tom Petty.

To be clear, these dads are mostly over 50, mostly out of touch with new artists (with some exceptions) and have no experience in professional music criticism whatsoever. This is the point: They are dads. Here is what these particular professional dads thought of Tweedy’s new album, track by track.

1. “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood.”

Brian: Not what I would consider in the realm of dad rock.
Steven: It’s a little bit country.
Brian: Yes. And dissonant.
Mitch: If you go back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, this kind of dissonance is what got them in trouble with the record label.
Brian: Not the kind of song that I would listen to on the radio.
Jay: I didn’t like it. Repetitive, just the same droning sound in the background. Screaming. No singing.
Steven: A little like the Ramones.
Brian: Maybe it’s just too sophisticated for our taste.

2. “High as Hello”

Brian: Definitely features the drums.
Mitch: This is very Wilco-esque.
Brian: Easier to listen to.
Gary: Anyone want a beer?
Jay: This is a dad group. There should be scotch, not beer. This I like better than the first one. There’s a melody; it’s much easier to listen to. It doesn’t drone on and on.
Brian: Yeah, it’s not droning. This sounds like the song’s really put together. There’s more to it than the first song.
Mitch: This is not great songwriting. These last two songs are not great songwriting. There’s one song in Wilco where Tweedy suffers from migraines so he wanted everyone to know what it sounds like to have migraines.
Brian: That song win any writing awards or anything?
Mitch: [Doesn’t answer]

3. “World Away”

Brian: I like it. Catchy beat.
Mitch: Maybe the whole album concept is “I’m gonna feature my son on the drums.” Because the drums are overpowering everything.
Jay: The same riff over and over.
Gary: I wish I was a famous rocker so I could have my sons play with me. It’s a nice vanity project. Van Halen’s done it. A lot of people have done it.
Me: Any of you guys know what time signature this is in?
Brian: It’s not 4/4. I don’t know if it’s 5 or 6 or 7...
Jay: I like this one the best out of the three
Steven: I like that one the least out of the three.

4. “Diamond Light Pt. 1”

Gary: Does Wilco normally have a lot of drumming in its music?
Mitch: Not that heavy. You have Tweedy playing guitar, you have [Nels] Cline playing guitar. So Wilco is more guitar-oriented.
Gary: Mitch is definitely not sold.
Mitch: [Shakes head]
Jay: I don’t like it, and if this is dad rock, this is not the kind of stuff I would want to listen to. Driving in traffic with this would make me crazy.
Brian: This is serious music that you have to appreciate on some type of level, I think.
Mitch: Listening to lots of folk singers and Dylan, I appreciate lots of lyrics, and I can’t understand any word.
Gary: That’s true, but I like the musicality of this.
Brian: Where would you listen to this? Would you listen to this in the car?
Mitch: I can’t play the radio in my office because I don’t get reception. So I just have my iPod spinning all day. If this came up, it’d be something I’d skip. It’s not doing anything for me.
Brian: He definitely demonstrates good technical drumming skills.
Gary: So his father accomplished his mission?
Brian: So it’s a prime example of dad rock in this case.
Gary: [At the end of the song] Is that feedback supposed to be there?

5. “Wait For Love”

Mitch: This is better.
Jay: Sounds like music.
Steven: You really have to listen a few times to get the lyrics. If you listen to Dylan, you can hear it right away.
Mitch: It used to be if you get the album, they have the thing you can hold, you can pull it out and read it. It’s not the same.
Jay: There’s music here. It’s not drowned out by the drums.
Mitch: It’s got a flow to it. I’m a little more comfortable with it.
Steven: He should put this as the first song on the album.
Mitch: That was a good one. That’s probably the best one so far.

Sukierae album cover dBpm Records/Tweedy

6. Low Key

Brian: Back to the drums.
Steven: But there’s music here, too. I like it.
Brian: Seems like the simpler it is, the more it makes sense,
Gary: By the way, none of these—my father wouldn’t listen to any of this.
Brian: For our parents, rock wasn’t established.
Gary: You’re 49! You can’t chime in here.
Brian: My dad listens to classical music.
Jay: Crooners is what my father would listen to. Sinatra.
Gary: My parents didn’t understand it! Yesterday I listened to Freak Out! The first Mothers of Invention album. I’m still in love with it.
Jay: These days there’s a lot of classic rock being played at all the frat houses. It’s really amazing.
Gary: You know how our wives have their book clubs? I’m enjoying this. Maybe we should have a listening party every weekend.

7. Pigeons

Jay: Is it gonna be pigeons or pigeon shit? That’s the question.
Gary: Let’s go to the next song.
Mitch: No, this is a song to his kid. This is a parent talking about his kids.
Jay: His voice is terrible.
Mitch: Listen to Dylan. Dylan could never sing. It was all about the words. One of my favorite Dylan songs is “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” and they said he came into the studio to do something else and that just came out and—[continues talking about Bob Dylan until interrupted].
Jay: I don’t like this at all.
Mitch: This is an ode to parenthood.
Gary: I think it’s an ode to pigeons.

8. Slow Love

Me: This next song is called “Slow Love.” Isn’t that a Prince song?
Everyone: [Blank stares]
Steven: How are they making that sound? Is that a synthesizer? Sounds a little Pink Floyd-ish.
Brian: When do we get to the song?
Gary: I like that it just keeps going. I like that he just lets it keep going.
Mitch: If I was in a car and this came on, I might skip it. If you take “Impossible Germany,” that’s a song I could listen to three or four times in a row.
Brian: I enjoy this song. The drums aren’t overpowering it. It’s got words. It’s got melody to it.
Mitch: [Hears drum drop at the end] That part is good.
Gary: It sounds like…remember that band Elbow I gave you? It sounds like just a bunch of other bands that I know. 

9. Nobody Dies Anymore

Me: The next song is called “Nobody Dies Anymore.”
Jay: Except us listening to this music. [Hears intro.] This has promise. I like the guitar riff.
Steven: You know why Jay likes it? Because it is more daddy rock.
Jay: Although I didn’t like his voice in that last song, this is pleasant. It’s being supported by that melody.
Mitch: I have probably everything Wilco every recorded, and that summer when Sky Blue Sky came out I saw—[continues discussing various Wilco performances].
Brian: It’s not driven by the voice.
Gary: Jay! We got a song you would like.
Jay: I like it! I gotta leave in five minutes. We’ve got people looking at our house, I gotta clean my office.
Gary: You don’t need an excuse, you can leave.

10. I’ll Sing It

Mitch: While he’s still featuring drums, it’s not dominating.
Gary: You know what’s interesting? Who is his audience? [Son] Matt and his friends won’t listen to this. And if we’re not really going to listen to it, who’s the music for?
Brian: They [Wilco] have been around for a while, right?
Mitch: There was a band called Uncle Tupelo, they were around for a while. And then Tweedy...
Gary: He’s playing the halftime at the Super Bowl this year. [Pauses for laugh] I’m making that up.
Steven: Why’s he putting out an album with 20 songs? Isn’t that a lot?
Jay: Cuz you’re not going to like half of them!

11. Flowering

Gary: I like this!
Mitch: It’s good.
Brian: This is like a—song. It’s put together.
Mitch: I like the guitar underneath. It sounds like a slide. That’s more like you would hear with Wilco.
Gary: What’s interesting is it’s drumming any accomplished drummer could do. If he’s trying to show off his son a little bit, songs like that—
Brian: But there’s a difference. In most songs you don’t find drum solos. It’s just part of it. He’s doing what a drummer needs to do. He’s keeping the beat, he’s adding the rhythm. He doesn’t stand out as being, “Who’s this drummer?” He fits right in.

12. Desert Bell

Mitch: It’s a waltz again. See, I’m learning something!
Steven: I like this, too. And you can understand the words!
Brian: It sounds like a few of the other songs.
Gary: If you’re gonna put 20 on the album, it’s hard to make every one of them sound different.
Brian: But it seems like it’s almost exactly the same tempo.
Gary: Well, if it’s 3/4 it is.
Brian: No, no. 3/4 isn’t the tempo.
Steven: Maybe that’s why he doesn’t need 20 songs. If they have a theme—if it’s like Quadrophenia, then there’s a theme all the way through.

13. Summer Noon

Steven: I like this song. But I think this song would be better if it had a couple more instruments in it.
Mitch: There’s bass playing in the back. If you had a piano or organ…
Gary: There’s a lot more going on now. Three or four guitars. I’m just saying, there’s more layers to it.
Mitch: It’s getting better. The beginning was kind of…
Steven: He should put the first two songs at the end.
Gary: Or edit himself a little more. Maybe the album only needs to be 17 songs.

14. Honey Combed

Brian: It’s melodic. But it’s relying too much on his voice.
Gary: That’s what he does.
Mitch: I like the guitar And then they got the little guitar underneath, for rhythm.
Gary: Is that a pedal steel? I like the sound of it. There’s no drum at all. Maybe he got tired of Spencer!

15. New Moon

Gary: It’s interesting, it’s like the whole album is falling into its own groove after those first two or three songs.
Mitch: This is more Wilco-esque.
Gary: I think Steven would really like Wilco. Because anything we say sounds like Wilco, he says, “I like this.”
Mitch: When I was anticipating this, I put Wilco on randomly for a whole workout. Whether it’s the music or even the words, like “Via Chicago”—if you ever listen to the words, it talks about dreaming about killing you. I listen to all those words and I think, Man, this is warped.
Bryan: So how is this album gonna be distributed?
Gary: Wilco as a band probably has a couple hundred thousand Twitter followers, a couple hundred thousand Facebook followers.

16. Down From Above

Steven: If you listen to his words, you start to like them?
Mitch: He’s a very lyrical songwriter, and this is very typical of—well, without as many instruments as you would hear on a Wilco album.
Steven: I’d like to read what this song says. This song has piqued my interest, and I’d like to listen to it a few times to see what it’s about. How many times did we have to listen to the Dylan albums as kids to figure out what it’s about?
Gary: If this were real dad rock, the CD would have an intermission where we can pee.
Mitch: [Narrates story about seeing the Moody Blues at Radio City Music Hall]
Gary: I’m actually a fan of the Moody Blues, and I lost all credibility in them when I saw they were doing a Moody Blues cruise this year.

17. Where My Love

Gary: [Makes piano motion with hands]
Brian: Sounds almost like a concept-type song.
Gary: Why didn’t he start with this?
Steven: It’s different.
Gary: I like the sound of it.
Mitch: I’d say it’s OK. If I never heard it again, I don’t know if I’d be missing anything. To put it in context, on the way over here, I had the last Ryan Adams on and I played the last song twice, and I don’t think there’s anything on here where I’d be like, I gotta hear this again.
Steven: Is there ever a time you hear an album for the first time and you say that?
Gary: Usually you’ve got to hear it a few times. It’s a process.
Mitch: You know what job I want? I want to be the guy who programs music in Starbucks. That’s my second career.

18. Fake Fur Coat

Gary: Again, as the album goes on, there are less and less drums.
Mitch: Well, I like the guitar.
Gary: My frustration—I buy new music, and I never get past the third or fourth song because I listen on the way to the train and it just starts over again when I get in the car.
Mitch: I listen at work. I was playing Nickel Creek recently. And the two people outside my office said, “We can’t stand the music—can you do something else?”

19. Hazel

Dads: [Silent contemplation]
Me: Do you like this?
All in unison: Yes!
Steven: This is my favorite on the album. He did a really bad job of arranging. He puts good songs in the back.
Gary: It’s like, son-son-son, Wilco-Wilco-Wilco all the way down. This song is much more like Wilco.
Steven: Well, this song has drums.
Mitch: But in the beginning the drums were dominating.
Steven: The Beatles never had a tough drum part.
Brian: He [Ringo] actually did a very good job with what he had to do.
Gary: I kind of want to ask Steven to dance with me.

20. I’ll Never Know

Brian: You’re right, this is like two different albums.
Gary: I just don’t think that this album is going to be one of the highlights of Jeff Tweedy’s discography. This is like a vanity project.
Mitch: If he’s producing himself and he’s putting it out on his own label, he may not care.
Gary: Well, he cares that he puts out a good project. He has his fans, his image, and his reputation.
Steven: Is he financially independent?
Gary: He’s been doing this, what, 20 years?
Steven: So then he probably doesn’t care. This was, “Let me do something with my kid.” And if you have money, then your kid is more important than anything.
Gary: [Looks at iPhone] Wilco has 626,000 fans on Facebook. That’s a lot!
Brian: So if 1 percent were to buy this album, that’s 6,000. But he’s hoping probably 10. Ten percent would be huge.
Steven: Somewhere there’s a statistic on what percent of the followers would buy a band’s album.

Jeff Tweedy Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco fame. Zoran Orlic/dBpm Records

Final verdict?

Mitch: I think the final verdict is it’s nothing special and nothing that would force me to go out and buy it.
Brian: But there’s some nice music on it.
Steven: I would give it a B-.
Gary: If this shows up in Newsweek, God forbid.