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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MOST MESSED UP: This Is Not Your Mother's Old 97's Album...Or Your Kid's For That Matter

Today, April 29th is a High Holy day for us Old 97's fans. It's CD release day for their latest, Most Messed Up. Any year they churn out new music is buzz worthy, but this one... this one is something special.

MMU is a self-professed (from Rhett himself) autobiographical look back at the band's 20+ year career in music. A thematic collection of songs that pulls back the curtain of Rhett's life as a rocker. It's an honest account of a mid-life crisis laid bare-- from affairs to addiction to what I like to believe is acceptance of, or at least admission to his destructive behaviors fleshed out in the title track.

Only Rhett knows what personal chaos he's gone through to get to this point, but he has channeled the turmoil into a magnificent album of gritty truths, packed with adult themes and a plethora of glorious f-bombs that aren't the least bit gratuitous. It's a musical time capsule of this moment in his life, candidly capturing the highs, the lows, the drinking, the drugs, the women--written unapologetically from the heart, or in this case the bottom of an empty bottle. All of it played with a ferocity not found on any of their previous records. It's raw, raucous and roars from the speakers to your earholes at 90 miles an hour.

Both Grand Theatre volumes also covered a gambit of genres, they felt looser than prior productions, but still suppressed. MMU is pure energy with the lid blown off. This one is the very definition of hard-charging. Lead by producer, Salim Nourallah this album is the closest they've come to replicating their legendary live performances. After 20 years as a band, they aren't resting on their past laurels and phoning this one in. Not on your life!


From top to bottom it's a winner. Unlike any of their other albums, MMU flows from one track to the next to tell the story of one flawed man's journey. As one of my lady friends articulated so succinctly, "It's surf, garage, jangle, booze, sex, longing & regret--all on one very rockin' record."

One of the many things I love most about Rhett's songwriting is how he masks darker, sad lyrics under wonderfully upbeat melodies. This is why I gravitated to his and their music in the first place. Aside from the slightly somber waltz rhythm of This is the Ballad which compliments the deteriorating relationship depicted (and even this builds to a crescendo by the end), all the cuts are set to deceptively catchy beats that hook you before you ever realize what you're singing.

The first track, Longer Than You've Been Alive is a nearly 6 minute opus that serves as a prologue for the rest of the album, It sets the stage, giving a candid peek into every aspect of life on the road from the great (and the fans are all clapping and screaming and squealing/I won't lie to you, it's a pretty sweet feeling) to the not so great (it's both a blast and a bore) to the oceans and oceans of alcohol and drug use (mountains of weed and a handful of pills) to the strains put on a relationship (love is a marathon/sometimes you puke). It starts off quietly, then builds to a roaring wail to "Get on the bus/And tell the driver to driiiiiiiiiiiive!"

The rest is a brilliant deconstruction of this rocker's life's pathos, mainly about women... Meeting women, drinking to excess with women, fucking women, fucking up with women, saying fuck you to the man, disconnecting from the world, fighting an intervention from friends and finally acknowledging he's the most messed up motherfucker, which I choose to believe is a ray of hope towards redemption instead of utter rejection of culpability ...because I'm a romantic asshat who believes everyone can earn forgiveness.

(Side Note (not to be confused with side boob): There are so many articles and interviews which speak to the momentous nature of this CD much more eloquently than I ever could. So if you don't want to read my nonsensical ramblings, please enjoy the professional interpretations hereherehere, here, here, a fun podcast here and NPR's Here and Now. And, hey, thanks for stopping by!)

There are so many beautiful phrasings, couplets and cadences throughout. The storytelling is superb. One could argue it's Mr. Miller's best yet. And the music is a head-on collision of tight jams and recklessness. I will now subject you to some of my favorites.

Grab a drink. I'm gonna gush.

Give It Time, has a story arc about meeting and subsequently losing a woman. The last verse resonates with sadness under the bouncy tune:

When I saw you for the last time
I sweat right through my shirt
I'm no professional, heartbreak's just a past time
but that don't mean it don't hurt

Awwww... let's hug it out.

I push repeat at least three times every time Wheels Off pops up on the player. I love the pure pop beauty of the melody and the clever word play that isn't all hearts and flowers.

I've been a party to a number of things
of which I'm not proud but I sing
Every day 
for pay
I'm traveling

I said I like you
Like it or not
That's when it got wheels off

This song contains the phrase which, to me, sums up the entire mid-life crisis signature of this album:

She made me feel like a GOD

Is it the attention of a pretty young thing or the unconditional love of a packed house. Or am I over analyzing. Probably. Either way I can't wait to hear this one live. Hoping it becomes a fixture on the setlist.

Nashville is a syncopated beauty about a cad bolting from his less-than-ideal choice of a wife, hiding from his trials, and daydreaming of a bigger existence. Again, rhyming couplets of an unhappy nature skillfully juxtaposed to a head-bobbing, cow-punk driven beat. The beat of his misery is so fun, I'm compelled to yell "YeeHaa!" at the end.

Her brother and her Dad
They were spittin' mad
When I packed up what I had
and took off running
it was bad

It was mean
I didn't care
and it's gotten me nowhere
So I try to be a better man

Even when his protags are jerkfaces, Rhett's pen hints at a glimmer of conscience.

Wasted reads like a defense of ones choice of career in the arts to family still nagging one to get "a real job".  A shove-it-up-your-ass, screw-your-conventional-vocation sentiment we all secretly wish to bellow.

I'm not down with the uptight world
never gonna be no square
I'll circle round the edge of the big, black void
but I don't wanna live down there

It's also a wishful anthem for those who toil in soulless 9-5 jobs.

I'm better off being wasted
than working my whole life through
Tonight I want to get wasted with you

Isn't this the kind of discontent that fuels Happy Hours?

Speaking of Happy Hour, you still with me? Do you need a refill? Go ahead. Go get a healthy pour. May as well make some popcorn, too. I'll wait.

*whistling… more whistling…* Ready? Okay. Moving on then…

Perhaps my favorite (at this point anyway) of the album, the kicky, surf guitar laden Guadalajara is all about a short-lived holiday fling with one of the greatest opening lines: 

She said, Hey can I get a little help
My bikini is stuck in the back

...and a killer alliteration cadence

I don't need this kinda pressure
I'm a cynical man
I gotta lotta livin' left to do
I'm just here for a work trip, babe
Not to fall in love with you

Again the guy's a total Lothario, but In Mr. Miller's deft hands, he manages to give this scoundrel a touch of humanity. The fact he's shaken by pushing her away renders him impossible to hate. Well, not completely, anyway.

well I let her go
I watched her walk
I made a memory of her
I don't work no good no more
thinking about the holiday girl

So many great lines in this one! Mmm. I could go on and on. And also, Philip's drum line is crazy good!! There will be much dancing to this one if it's on the setlist. Pretty pleasepleasePLEASE let it be on the setlist!!

The Disconnect just makes me sad.

Green ones turn you off
the white ones turn you on
almost all night long
so high
come down, pay the price
it's steeper every day...
are you strong enough to say
bye bye

Come here, sweetheart and let me hug your head. :(

The Ex of All You See is Murry's only contribution, but it's a fitting one keeping to the theme this time with a Clashy, punk attack.

Oh, yeah, she'll say goodbye
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, you're sure to be
The Ex of all you see

Intervention is a blast of a full-on punk rock bash fueled by the screaming guitar of guest, Tommy Stinson, a crazy-fun extraneous intervention-speak argument laid under a blistering outro that I still haven't deciphered completely, and some fantastic lyrics that will surely be enthusiastically shouted back to them in concert, namely...

My friend Richard doesn't want to go

(How hysterical is it this messed up MoFO's name is Richard? Extra points for that one. HaHa!)

And perhaps my favorite line ever set to music…

Somebody kick him in the sack 
just to stop his bitchin'

LOVE IT!! That one never fails to make me chortle.

We're only here cause we care about you
we want you to get well
You're acting like an ASSHOLE
we're sick of it you can tell
27 days on a dry vacation…

The title track closes out this opera. Most Messed Up could be a ginormous middle finger to the world or a self-centered, foot-stomping cry for a little understanding, goddammit!

Well I need a little 
need a little 
need a little
need a little...

Whatever the case, it punctuates the end of discussion with a guttural, cathartic caterwaul.

Of course, what do I know. This is just my bullshit opinion and conjecture. I could be completely off base, but this is how I feel when I listen to this album. There is so much more I could say about MMU, but I don't have the space or the ability to express myself intelligibly. All I can say for sure is this is a ridiculously magnificent collection of work. It's perhaps Rhett's best storytelling, the band's greatest jams, and so FUCKING FUN! I cannot WAIT to watch them play this (hopefully as a consecutive block) full-on, no holds-barred, without a net.

Ten albums and Twenty years in, my favorite foursome haven't lost any of their swagger. They may be middle-aged, but they exhibit no sign of aging. None. If anything, they seem revitalized. I would pit their energy, showmanship and talents against any band decades their junior.

As the blue-eyed lovely one states in Longer Than You've Been Alive, Rock and Roll's been very, very good to him. He loves what he does and he's had pretty good luck. And you know what? I love what he does, too. And I feel lucky to get the chance to stand amidst a crowded room of Old 97's disciples, crane my neck up to the stage and have their particular brand of Rock and Roll wash over me for years to come.

Now THAT'S Church, BABY!!

As a reward for reading this and/or fast-forwarding through this ginormous fireball of drivel, here's a video of what might very well be my favorite Old 97's moment on stage. A triumph of rock in which Rhett puts the Roll in Rock and Roll.

Ha Ha! I love them so much!

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