Listening to Wilco's last two studio albums, it'd be easy to assume that Jeff Tweedy lost some of his joie de vivre while searching for something deeper: Brilliant as at least one of them is, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born rarely come near the rollicking fun of the band's early days. And that's fine—let Tweedy explore and experiment, because he arrives at breathtaking places as often as he finds himself twisting in the muck. But where does the guy go when it's time to disconnect from furrowed-brow seriousness a bit? Not far, as it turns out: Along with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and YHF producer Jim O'Rourke, Tweedy has Loose Fur, a band that gets as sloppy and fun as its name implies. With Born Again In The USA, their second album, the tables seem to have turned: Instead of a side project that allows for experimentation, Loose Fur is now the place to go—at least sometimes—to let more straightforward impulses loose.
The album-opener and first single, "Hey Chicken" (check out the amazing video online), is the kind of song Wilco's record label—and some of its fans—probably wish they would insert to break up recent moods: It's all classic-rock guitar, chugging piano, cowbell, and hooky snarl. "The Ruling Class" is a twangy, irreverent little shot about the return of Jesus ("Christ is on his way across town / He was gettin' tired of hangin' around") that goes down with off-the-cuff smoothness; "Pretty Sparks," another fuzzy, pop-minded nugget, finds Tweedy more awake than usual. O'Rourke gets plenty of mic-time, too, and though he's always leaned strange, his songs actually come across slightly more somber and serious here: "Answers To Your Questions" sounds a bit like Crooked Fingers, while "Stupid As The Sun" gets jaunty. (Elsewhere, O'Rourke tackles the Ten Commandments with his usual cheekiness.) There seems to be no plan or overarching vision, and that's what makes Born Again In The USA so completely listenable: It sounds like three talented guys having fun making music, unworried about burrowing too deep or pleasing anyone but themselves.