Back in the mid-to-late ’90s, when I was an unknown Midwestern singer-songwriter, I wrote a letter to Jim O’Rourke asking if he’d produce my next record. I thought maybe he could art up my G-C-D lonely-guy songs with gurgling synthesizers and Beefheart guitar or whatever. He never responded. Well, now I’m a mid-level rock critic and he got stuck being the short guy in Sonic Youth, so I guess I got the last laugh. Anyway, Jeff Tweedy, a better writer of lonely-guy songs than I, though I’d never use the word “assassin” as a fucking verb, had the same idea when he hired O’Rourke to produce Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which besides being horribly titled is also not very good (too arted up). Also around that time Tweedy, O’Rourke, and drummer Glen Kotche formed a side project (“supergroup” to flatterers) called Loose Fur, which put out a record in 2003. It was pleasant at times but the gurgling synthesizers and Beefheart guitar didn’t cover up the snoozy, overlong songs. I can’t remember anything concrete about it and I just listened to it three times in a row.
But now Loose Fur are back with Born Again in the U.S.A., which besides being cleverly titled is also quite good. Tweedy, who mumbles six of the ten songs, is in keep-it-fairly-simple mode, riffing lazily, ripping off a Neil Young obscurity, cooking up a “Dock of the Bay”–style whistle riff for the toe-tapping “The Ruling Class,” and closing with a just-arty-enough epic and a handsome breakup song. Another thing about Tweedy that you might have forgotten: He’s a hot bass player. O’Rourke takes the mic for a ’70s folkie ballad (Danny O’Keefe?) and two funny near-rockers on which he displays a knack for Cole Porter–ish rhymes (“assess/acquiesce,” “mandate/”conjugate”). I suspect he’s the driving force behind the lovely instrumental, too. And Kotche, he’s a great drummer—his fill after the false ending to “Ruling Class” is what dorky sound engineers correctly call “tasty.” Dear Loose Fur: If I take back that gratuitous wisecrack about O’Rourke’s height, will you produce my next record?