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Loose Fur: 'Born Again in the USA'

Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche are members of the very successful band Wilco. Jim O'Rourke is an accomplished musician and a sought-after producer in his own right. Somehow they have found time in their busy schedules for a side project, the band Loose Fur -- and I'm glad they did.

Tweedy, Kotche and O'Rourke don't shy away from the big themes. On their new CD Born Again in the USA, they tackle nothing less than two of the most elemental forces in human life: love and religion.

As it turns out, love hasn't been too kind to the boys in the band. In the "Answers to your Questions," a bitter lover lashes out at his ex. Against the backdrop of Tweedy's delicate and pretty 12-string guitar, the ill will expressed in O'Rourke's lyrics sounds that much deeper.

At another point, Tweedy laments losing a lover who, in the end, wasn't much interested in him. His seeming nonchalance and O'Rourke's bouncy piano line mask a more profound hurt at the heart of the song.

We expect songs about love from pop musicians -- songs about religion seem to come along less frequently. So it's a surprise when Tweedy, O'Rourke, and Kotche devote half of their album to singing about religion. They take obvious delight in poking fun at the popular pieties of the day.

In "Thou Shalt Wilt," they even offer an impious version of the Ten Commandments. The song's poppy, anthem-like quality makes it sound like a Schoolhouse Rock version of the Decalogue, for the secular set.

The songs on Born Again in the USA are alive with creative ideas, inventive musical twists and an impressive emotional range, spanning profound doubt to the aggressive machismo of the album's rollicking opener, "Hey Chicken."

But what I really like about this album is the way the band marshals rock 'n' roll -- the music our culture continues to associate with youth -- and bends and shapes it to satisfy a more adult state of mind. There is a worldliness, and also a certain level of cynicism that comes from being an adult and dealing with life's frustrations and disappointments.

This is not to say the trio has made a deadly serious album stripped of any fun -- quite the contrary. The band is funny and entertainingly profane when it comes to religion, and they avoid falling into adolescent vulgarity. The love songs capture complex shadings of feeling instead of overwrought emotionalism. The result is a fascinating departure from standard rock fare.

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John Brady