Wednesday, March 22

Old 97's Frontman Doesn't Quite Convince

Artist: Rhett Miller
Album: The Believer
I'm a pretty big fan of the Old 97's. My uncle turned me on to them and within a year they became one of my favorite bands. For those of you who aren't familiar, the Old 97's are an alt-rock band who specialize in mixing country twang cowboy love songs with pop rock and punk. For some it's a little hard to swallow, but if you give it a chance it’ll sweep even the most hard headed of listeners off their feet (trust me, I once said I would never like anything even remotely country). When I heard that the voice and primary writer behind the Old 97's was putting out a solo album, I was pumped. I bought “The Believer” the day it came out.

"The Believer" by Rhett Miller has got a few problems. One of them being the music. While it is always sharp and precise, it is never edgy or adventurous. This is the problem with studio musicians in general, in my opinion. All of their stuff sounds like anyone could play it; there is no life to it, nothing in the music to distinguish "The Believer" from any other adult pop record. Not to say that the music isn't well played or well arranged, because it is. But overall, it feels impersonal and generic, which is never a good thing to sound like. Another problem I have with this album is that it feels overproduced at time, most notably on "Question", although it is present on "My Valentine" as well. It’s too slick, so much so that it loses its personality. Miller sounds best at his most stripped down and natural and the overproduction hurt him because it draws away from his strength, which has always been song writing.

That being said, the saving grace of this album is the man himself, Rhett Miller. Miller has always had away with words, and has already proven himself to be one of the best songwriters of the last 20 years. This album just serves as more proof of this fact. Through his words he can take on any roll and play it convincingly, from a sly heartbreaker, ("Sex in war-time is sweeter then peace Yeah, it’s the one sweet thing about war") to a lovesick fool ("Love gets you in the gut Takes the top off of your head"). The title track is the album's best; a somber and emotional tribute to Miller's long time friend Elliot Smith, who recently committed suicide. And it is on this goodbye that Miller is at his most true and most charming, even with such dark subject matter. Rather than overstate his case, Miller keeps it simple and in a way, says more about his friend by saying less.

This is a solid pop album with a lot of smart, catchy pop songs on it. With the right band behind him (cough OLD 97S cough) this album could really have taken off. But the impersonal nature of the music itself is a real turn off. For those looking for some toothpaste pop with a smarter edge to it, this might be for you. It serves as a way to introduce a new audience to Miller’s brand of smart and charming song writing. Regardless of your opinion of this album, don’t dare write of Rhett Miller, because with the right landscape for his poetry, he can make a believer out of anyone. I’m proof of that.

6 out of 10
WORTH THE MONEY: Only for adult pop music junkies and Old 97's enthusiasts
KEY TRACKS: "The Believer" "Brand New Way" "Help Me, Suzanne"

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