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Bare Jr.

Bare Jr.'s Brainwasher is a hell of a lot more fun than it has any right to be. Any record dedicated to the memory of Shel Silverstein ought to be setting itself an impossible standard, but oddly enough the wit and humor of Bare Jr.'s second outing bears up over repeated listenings -- one even suspects that Silverstein himself would grin on occasion.

Building on its earliest roots in country music -- frontman Bobby Bare Jr. is the son of that Bobby Bare -- the Nashville-based quartet adopts a decidedly noisier sound here than on its debut, 1998's much more rootsy Boo-tay. Brainwashed is riskier, too. Often, as on the Flaming Lips-flavored "Why Do I Need a Job?" you get the feeling that everybody plugged in and counted off while one person kept his finger on the tape recorder's pause button. (Silverstein would love this song in particular, especially the parts about the singer's stripper girlfriend: "She pays for my food/She likes to be rude/She undresses her friends for me.") And while the pace on the last half of the record flags a bit, the whole remains raucous enough to sustain interest, particularly on "Devil Doll," in which Lil' Bobby sings about a one-night-stand gone dangerously and hilariously wrong.

The real fun on Brainwasher, however, is to be found in its lyrics. "If you choose me over him," Bobby Bare Jr. sings plaintively, "I'll be nice to your mama, take your daddy fishin'/I'll make you biscuits, then clean the kitchen/We'll find that old boyfriend who treated you bad/You can cuss him out while I kick his ass." Say what you want; that's a sweet offer. Or consider the enigmatic "Gasoline Listerine," which comes close to approximating Silverstein's own twisted outlook: "The skeletons in my closet have more fun than me/I am boring and useless/And my skeletons are fabulously unique." Running all of two stanzas, it's quirky and punchy and almost unbearably innocent, like Silverstein's work always was.

Brainwasher is subtitled "More Songs About Girls That Don't Like Me," and there are more than a few caustic observations about being weird and unattractive to be found here. But we're all weird and unattractive, so that doesn't signify much. What Brainwasher demonstrates is that it's possible to have a wicked good time even in our weird, unattractive state, and that's always been a message worth hearing.

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Eric Waggoner