Friday, September 29, 2006

(09.29.06) Recommends:

Old 97s, "Hit By A Train: The Best of the Old 97s" (Elektra, 2006).

A Greatest Hits record is like a band on life support. And watching a band like the Old 97s on life support is strange, since anybody who saw the 97s live knows they are one of the great live acts of their generation. I hope this is the last 97s record ever. It would be a nice ending. The 97s are a young man's band, and the 97s are no longer young. They are older, and married, and have kids. Rhett Miller, the main force behind the band, is off trying to make a name for himself with increasingly interesting solo records. And anyway, you can't blow the roof off a shitty, smoke-filled bar, populated by college kids with stomachs full of Free State Oatmeal Stout, in Lawrence, KS at 2am on a Wednesday when you are old, and have a wife and a kid. But this album is the perfect ending to the 97's legacy. Live, Rhett Miller is a born rock star, playing the 200-person capacity Bottleneck in eastern Kansas as if it were a sold-out Madison Square Garden. But, first and foremost, this band is about the songs. While fans will quibble with the precise selections of songs for the album, the arrangement has a nice distribution from their first five albums. And what is particularly striking about the songs, of course, are the lyrics. I have no doubt that at some point in his career, Rhett Miller will write a novel, and he'll finally receive the writing credit he is due. [Rhett Miller actually made a contribution to Issue 12 of McSweeney's, the influential literary journal.] This band is truly one of the great mysteries to me. How they never became one of the most popular bands on the planet is completely beyond me. Fifty years from now disaffected suburban middle schoolers will be carving Rhett Miller lyrics into their school desks. Fifty years from now music critics will be listing "Too Far To Care" as one of the essential albums of the 90's and "Satellite Rides" as on of the essential albums of the 00's. Fifty years from now critics will list Rhett Miller as one of the essential song writers of his generation. For now, we should all go out and buy this record. Because just maybe, even though it's well past the time when the Old 97s could put on a show like they did in their prime, the band could exit the stage with a commercially successful album. I really hope it happens this time.

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