My father is decidedly old-school. Modern considerations of political correctness have little bearing on his life, and this leads to comically embarrassing incidents involving his societal-conscious offspring. One of his favorite sayings comes out when he sees a lumpy-figured female: “She looks like a gunnysack full of doorknobs.” Loose Fur’s sophomore LP is a lot like that homely wallflower, but in these more sensitive times a cursory glance is hardly enough. I must ask her for a dance.
Sorry, folks, Born Again in the U.S.A. has nothing to do with Springsteen; it’s the other Boss who’s of concern here. Jeff Tweedy, Jim O’Rourke and Glenn Kotche take to the pulpit in a noble stand against the rising waters of conservative Christianity. This divisive movement has been stuck in Tweedy’s craw for a while now, and is often the target of his recently souped-up onstage barbs.
If Loose Fur’s self-titled debut was a natural extension of Wilco’s masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (exhibiting the same dissonance washed backdrops to Tweedy’s folk ditties), then it can be said that Born Again rides the inertia of 2004’s underrated A Ghost is Born. Still in the mood to louden up, Tweedy even broke out the “prog-rock” word when discussing the disc. But unlike Wilco’s most recent, most of the songs on Loose Fur’s latest are better fit for the other rock modifier: soft.
The album’s best track, “The Ruling Class,” is a whimsically strummed (think of a bouncier “California Stars”) reflection on the ills of man and a cleverly worded damnation of the hypocritical elements of the Christian right. Tweedy and O’Rourke’s lyrics resurrect an unholy amalgamation of Jerry Falwell’s version of Christ and a two-bit derelict. First, the lowlife Christ makes an appearance: “He resurfaced on the sidewalk on my block the other day Yeah, he’s back, jack, smokin’ crack, find him if you wanna get found.” Next it’s the neo-con/Liberty University bullshit JC. You know, the one who thinks bombing brown folks is a-OK: “He’s having supper with the upper management of a new regime He’s got deductions right on down the line, dependant claims on all of mankind.”
Other than on “Answers to Your Questions,” it’s not real pretty when O’Rourke steps to the microphone. Most of his songs stab at a Tom Waits-style balladry but end up sounding more like schmaltzy Steely Dan castoffs. On his worst effort, “Thou Shalt Wilt,” O’Rourke suffers from some very un-lyrical word choices. Verb’s such as “acquiesce,” “procreate” and “conjugate” just don’t flow in a very musical way.
Tweedy bookends the record with a pair of good ones: “Hey Chicken” is a punchy guitar song with off-tempo breakdown jams and — just like that stupid T-shirt — more cowbell. It would have been nice, though, if Tweedy let his voice crack on the line “Hey chicken you’re all talk” the way he did on Wilco’s “Can’t Stand It.” On the finale, “Wanted,” O’Rourke lays down layered tracks of piano and organ, which Tweedy lets his guitar bleed over during the beautifully pained choruses.
Tweedy, O’Rourke and Kotche (whose drumming is unfortunately understated here) are nothing but stud musicians, and their adept playing, plus the biting lyrical commentary, make Born Again in the U.S.A. a decent release. However, fans hoping to have their appetite quelled in waiting for the next Wilco album will not likely be satisfied.
“Hey Chicken” video