Born Again in the USA
ide projects are always a little hard to figure. For the most part, however, they are all about kicking back, staying loose, and having fun playing music. One seldom gets high art out of these things; they are essentially a musical vacation recorded for the sake of posterity, ego padding, and a few giggles. As a general rule, don’t come in expecting miracles and you won’t be disappointed.
Wilco mainman Jeff Tweedy, drummer Glenn Kotche, and their producer/jack-of-all-trades Jim O’Rourke were a bit stiff on Loose Fur’s self-titled 2000 debut. It was an abstract, angular affair that shamefully played against the side project outlines laid out above. This time out, though, miracles are very much on the minds of Loose Fur, but not the musical kind—the good ol’ fashioned religious kind. Or maybe the kind you found in the parking lot at a Grateful Dead gig. Though the lyrical content—and even the album title—is dominated by a variety of takes on Jesus, etc., the tunes are not nearly as self-conscious this time out. They sound laid back. They sound like they’re having a blast. They sound, well, loose.
Opener “Hey Chicken” is the kind of Stones-derived rocker you used to be able to count on Wilco for in the late 90s, but has been missing from the catalog since. Tweedy sounds like he’s missed them. This sort of rollicking good time cut is the hallmark of a great side project. No self-consciousness, no uptight overthinking, and nothing too deep. Just miles of riffs and grins galore.
This is followed by the front-porch acoustic grooves and whistle-along melody of “The Ruling Class,” a tongue-in-cheek tale of Jesus coming back, meeting with the Republicans, drinking beer, smoking crack, and hanging around “finding” people. Even at latter-day Wilco’s most upbeat, they haven’t had this much fun, and they haven’t made anything that sticks in your head like this since “Outtasite (Outta Mind).” Born Again, indeed.
From that point forward, things go just as they should; that is, all over the goddamn place. There’s some Fahey-esque, sculpted folksy picking from O’Rourke; there’s some artsy instrumentals; there’s more shit-hammer riffage; and there’s a beautiful, tear-jerking closer from Tweedy. Nothing pays off as well as that opening pair, but then again, nothing sounds forced or labored, and that is an accomplishment in and of itself, given the vast history of garbage side projects out there. It isn’t a classic by any means and it isn’t meant to be, and in that respect, it is a total success. Born Again hits its target square, and while it aimed low in the first place, you can’t argue with the results. And if you do, I suggest you lighten up, turn the speakers up, and jam the fuck out. It worked for these guys.