One Hot Mess.
Twenty Years In, The Old 97's Are About To Release Their Best Album Yet. Yes, Really.
By Cory on Friday, April 18, 2014 at 6:21 PM
It's no secret that the North Texas music scene has been on pretty huge nostalgia trip this year.
To be fair, though, with two of the area's biggest acts -- the Toadies and Old 97's -- both celebrating the 20th anniversaries of their respective debut LPs, this recent bout of backwards gazing seems apropos enough. Truth is, there just aren't too many acts out there -- anywhere -- that stay together long enough to ever see their albums approach drinking age.
But far rarer is the band that can say, 20 years into the game, that it's now releasing what's arguably the best album of its career.
And honestly say it, I mean.
Whereas the Toadies have spent much of 2014 performing 1994's Rubberneck from front to back, the members of the Old 97's have been prepping and promoting their tenth studio LP, Most Messed Up -- an obnoxiously rowdy, booze-soaked scorcher that doesn't just beckon back to the band's earliest material, but blows some of it out of the water.
Yes: Most Messed Up very well might be the best fucking thing the band's ever done.
At a time when country music has become increasingly safe, the Old 97's latest record finds the band making a definite statement. It just so happens that statement is: "Fuck it, let's get drunk!"
To that end, the subject matter tackled in Most Messed Up's breezy 12 tracks includes drinking rye whiskey ("This is the Ballad"), drinking whiskey and having sex ("Let's Get Drunk & Get It On"), drinking with a girl ("Wheels Off"), being a drunk musician ("Wasted"), taking pills ("The Disconnect"), being the best fucking drunk in Dallas ("Most Messed Up"), and doing all of these things for a really long ass time ("Longer Than You've Been Alive").
And, all the while, Rhett Miller flings f-bombs around like they're going out of style -- on just about every track, in fact.
Thing is Miller's casually dropped expletives come off less as like sophomoric attempts made in vain by a middle-aged rocker in attempt to relive the glory days of his long-passed youth and more like a sign that Miller is more at ease at the helm of this crew than he's been in a decade. While Miller's lyrics on the disc indeed remain as playful and clever as ever, Miller's newfound candor -- and, let's face it, all those f-bombs -- give the songs an extra bite this time around.
Case in point: I don't know that anyone has ever delivered a more straightforward and appropriately to-the-point rock lyric than "Let's drink whiskey and do it all night long / Let's get drunk and get it on," as Miller sings on the disc's third track, the similarly simplistically named "Let's Get Drunk & Get it On."
By our estimation, the new disc's lone misstep is that it opens with -- far and away -- its worst song. The fact that the album-opening "Longer Than You've Been Alive" is by far the most chilled-out song on the record isn't the problem; more of an issue is the fact that the song's hokey, self-referential lyrics -- ones that are so self-referential that they even include the acknowledgement that they are -- retread the long-worn-out subject of a band living life on the road. The very Sammy Sosa-like, "Rock and roll's been very, very good to me" hook doesn't help matters.
But, rather fortunately for the 97's, the 11 gems that follow should be enough to make 97's fans forget that opening cut faster than Sosa suddenly forgets how to speak English at Congressional hearings. And how: Big, shout-a-long chorus like "Who do I gotta blow to get into this fucking show?" ("Nashville"), "Tonight I wanna get wasted with you" ("Wasted") and the aforementioned "Let's drink whiskey and do it all night long" are easy enough to latch onto from the very first go-round, sure. But they only grow more enlivening with each repeated listen.
And make no mistake, given the rate at which the just-under-40-minutes-long Most Messed Up flies by, the album practically begs for repeat listens. That, we can pretty much guarantee.
Here's another prediction about this disc while we're at it: In another 20 years, audiences will be shouting along the lyrics to Most Messed Up's songs, too.
Drunkenly, no doubt.
Cover photo by Eric Ryan Anderson. The Old 97's celebrate the release of Most Messed Up on Saturday, April 19, at Strauss Square at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Black Joe Lewis, Slobberbone and Madison King open.