The alt-world conquering by all things Jeff Tweedy accelerates in 2003. By the time that stupid War in Iraq is over, we'll all be sick of him. In a roll call that doesn't even include the Uncle Tupelo reissues, he's releasing enough music in the early part of this year to make Robert Pollard shake his head in disbelief. Seriously: there's the DVD of the film ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"), the Minus 5 album (Down With Wilco), the Wilco EP, and probably strangest of all, this Loose Fur album. To my ears, Loose Fur is essentially a one-off jam session between Tweedy, multi-everything Jim O'Rourke and drummer Glenn Kotche. And like all jam sessions, it alternates moments of bullshit with moments of brilliance sometimes within the same song!
The actual session predates Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it's certainly related. The opening track, "Laminated Cat," is known to fans of the YHF demos as "Not for the Season," and its dual-guitar build sets the pace for the rest of the record: long, steady-grooved songs that often build into something else. You can almost hear Tweedy opening his mind to the next phase in his music much of the feel on Loose Fur isn't replicated as much on YHF as on the live shows that followed it.
So "Elegant Transaction" starts out a bit like Nick Drake but mutates into a cross between a lost Forever Changes outtake: that is, if Arthur Lee had conceived it as a bluegrass album. "So Long" starts with the chattering guitar that infiltrated "I'm the Man Who Loves You," and after Kotche stops randomly hitting his cymbals, it evolves into almost a slow, sad shuffle with an endless "Da da da da" chorus.
They kinda messed up with "You Were Wrong:" it's an actual song, and wouldn't be out of place on YHF, except for the fact that it's not all that great.
Finally, there's the gorgeous "Chinese Apple," another slow starter that glides on a bed of acoustic guitars for awhile until they discover another repeating riff lurking that they then mount and ride home.
Overall, Loose Fur is kinda interesting, especially as a historical document, but it's not much more than that. It's for fans only, and nothing wrong with that. I'm one, of course, but I'm guessing that I'm speaking for more than one fan when I say: yeah, cool, but when's the next full-length Wilco album coming out?