The deification of rock stars is as old as rock n’ roll itself. The Beatles were, as Lennon himself had it, bigger than Jesus. Robert Plant declared himself to be a Golden god. It isn’t just a case of rock stars crowning themselves either. A trawl through the tabloids these days will show you just how thin the line between sinner and saint is when it comes to Pete Doherty. Even so, it was something of a shock to read this week about the growing number of Episcopal churches in the US offering something called a U2 Eucharist, where the songs and words of the band are woven into a traditional service in an effort to attract more young people into church. Apparently, God help us, it’s working.
It’s also the kind of thing I think the members of Loose Fur would have a good chuckle over. In fact, it’s precisely the sort of thing that their second release, Born Again in the USA, is preoccupied with. To a greater or lesser degree, each of the tracks on the album are an exploration of religion’s place within American society. In the languid, breezy Southern rock haze of ‘The Ruling Class’, Christ shows up as a crack smoking, smack shooting drifter, arriving suddenly on Jeff Tweedy’s block, ‘drinking beer/just trying to get down.’ On ‘Thou Shalt Wilt’, Jim O’Rourke runs through his beef with the 10 commandments, ‘Number 4 is such a pain/the Sabbath thing is so arcane.’ The goofy, happy-go-lucky piano bop turning into something a little more spooky as he repeats and draws out the refrain ‘You shall have no other God but me’ over and over. And, of course, there’s the post-rock instrumental ‘An Ecumenical Matter’ the title of which suggesting a rogue Father Ted fan somewhere in the mix.
Now comedy and music have something of a sordid past but the balance here works. Perhaps it’s due to the quality of the musicians, effortlessly plucking elements from the Byrds, Grateful Dead and Revolver-era Beatles as well as their own respective back catalogues to create a classic, all-American sound. Perhaps it’s the precision of Tweedy and O’Rourke’s jibes at beer drinking, bible thumping Middle America with its mega-churches and Walmarts and hate. Perhaps it’s the anguished throb that closes out ‘Wreckroom’ or the tumbling, searching ‘Answers To Your Questions’ that shows there’s something more serious going on here under the surface. It’s not often that a side-project produces an album that deserves anything more than a footnote mention. Loose Fur deserves its own cult.