Monday, 17 April 2006

Album Review: Born Again In The USA

Following the same freewheeling, jam-like approach of its predecessor (the excellent, if somewhat sprawling Loose Fur), Born Again In The USA, is one of the most varied, intelligent and fun albums this writer has heard in a while. All the more impressive, then, that the musicians involved still refuse to be termed 'a band' and insist on Loose Fur's status as strictly a side project.

For the uninitiated, the musicians in question are Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche of Wilco and Jim O'Rourke of Sonic Youth, who also produced Wilco's finest hour, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. O'Rourke has always been hard to pin down, but with Wilco gradually becoming more restrained and more focussed, it's clear that Tweedy now sees Loose Fur as the place to relax, have fun and let his musical impulses run amok.

There's a laidback late-'60s/early-'70s feel to the early procession of Tweedy-sung songs that open the album. Hey Chicken procures the groove of Stealers Wheel's Stuck In The Middle With You, adds a cowbell and becomes probably the greatest opening track of the year so far, featuring kind of rollicking riffs that Wilco used to make in the early-'90s. The Ruling Class, meanwhile, is a twangy, delightfully throwaway track that waggishly wonders about the return of Jesus, "Christ is on his way across town / He was getting tired of hanging around / Yeah, he's back, Jack, smoking crack / Find him if you wanna be found." It's not the last time that Loose Fur thumb their nose at religion; later, on Thou Shalt Wilt - a cheeky, satirical take on the Ten Commandments - O'Rourke quips, "Number four is such a pain, this Sabbath thing is so arcane / I don't want to desecrate, my only day to sleep in late."

O'Rourke's three songs are, on the whole, more varied than Tweedy's. The outright humour of the aforementioned Thou Shalt Wilt is married to the soothing rock balladry of Answers To Your Questions, while Stupid As The Sun is an Eagles-esque, sharp rock number. But that isn't to say that the Wilco frontman doesn't tease himself into different avenues. The album's closing track, Wanted, combines hopping piano and harmonised six-strings with some classic Tweedy lyrics ("When I say she's a rapist / That really isn't what I mean"). Furthermore, any doubts that Loose Fur might be tempering their ambition are blown away by the meandering and structureless eight-and-a-half-minute-long Wreckroom.

Born Again In The USA is superior to its somewhat angular and abstract predecessor in almost every way. However, like their self-titled debut, Loose Fur never appear to be reading from any particular manifesto and they never plough any particular field too deep; ultimately, that's what make Loose Fur so refreshing.

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