Thursday, July 17, 2014

How messed up is Old 97's "Most Messed Up"?

[Note: This post was originally composed back in May and was intended to be published two months ago, a few weeks after the release of the mentioned album. But as the parent of an infant I must put the blahg on the back burner sometimes, so this won't be quite as topical as it might have been before, but I hope it's still worthwhile for fans of the band.]

The more I listened to Most Messed Up the more it grew on me. My initial response upon my first spin was it didn't quite have that same je-ne-sai-pas upon first hearing them 15 years ago; I suppose it struck me as trying to recapture the old magic, and while the songs generally rocked they didn't quite have the perhaps ineffable quality their songs had before. However, the more I thought about it, it wasn't so much that the songs are different (although they are) but that the band members are different people than they were and (more important) I am different than I was. It's not that I cannot hear new music and quite like it but music must merely fit into a rather busy life. Fifteen years ago I may have thought I was busy but I really had no idea what busy was… and fifteen years from now I'll say the same thing about how busy I am now.


The band celebrates their 20th anniversary with this album, and literally that's what the opening track, "Longer Than You've Been Alive," takes as its subject. While it's an interesting document of the rock life, when I think about the band performing the song live I expect it was featured during the tour; having seen the band in concert many times over the past decade and a half I know part of the appeal of their songs is singing along with them, and to be frank, this will never be a good sing-along. It's not merely that the track lacks a real chorus, but the structure is more or less Rhett singing at the audience rather than singing something with them.

It's not entirely appropriate that I'm judging the latest Old 97's songs by how I imagine they'd do in the live setting given that the band was in town during their recent tour and we didn't go see them (having a infant cuts into one's concert availability… and stamina… and inclination) but I think I have more than sufficient experience with the band's shows to gauge the songs thusly.

(One can stream all the tracks from the band's website, although I certainly do encourage anyone with any interest in the band who hasn't already done so to go buy the album.)

Continuing from the opener we have:

"Give It Time": Jaunty enough to bop along with, and with some Rhett/Murry harmony in the chorus, so this could be okay.

"Let's Get Drunk & Get It On": Another mid-tempo rocker that's a bit on-the-nose but I can see the first line of the chorus with the last three words slowed for emphasis—"Let's drink whisky and do it all… night… long" turning into a nice moment for the audience to howl out those words with Rhett.

"This Is the Ballad": Perhaps the weakest track from a live perspective. The transition to almost a march tempo during the chorus and sort of barking vocals make this more of an interesting song than one I'd want to stand through.

"Wheels Off": A nice lilty bass line propels this so one could sway and bop the head, and the chorus of "That's when it got wheels off" has enough of a sing-along quality to be okay. Not deserving of becoming a staple but getting played once in a while wouldn't be bad.

"Nashville": A honky-tonk stomp with Murry harmony vocals in the verses make this one seem like it could be pretty good on stage. Also, there are several F bombs Rhett put in the lyrics that could be cathartic in a sing-along.

"Wasted": This country track offers a bit of a change up from the rockers, and with the line "They might think I wasted my life—they're wrong" combined with the other take on the title ("Tonight I wanna get wasted with you") both have good sing-along potential.

"Guadalajara": A tale of a south-of-the-border one-night-stand features some of Ken's best leads in a sort of surf-meets-Mexicali vibe. Not as much of a sing-along but one to revel in Ken's blistering fret work.

"The Disconnect": This one's strength is the chorus—"I am now connected to the disconnect / Where the real world holds no sway / I've been gone as long as I can recollect / And the real world isn't that real anyway"—in what is essentially covering similar ground as "Comfortably Numb" (but to a mid-tempo honky-tonk idiom).

"The Ex of All You See": Murry's only track on lead vocals, and we always like a chance for him to take the mic. It's no "W. Tx. Teardrops" or "Smokers"—in a way it's surprisingly the most straight-ahead rock on the album—but its driving snare beat by Phillip keeps it going well. This wouldn't be bad once in a while but at this stage of their during career Murry's time portion of the show (not that it's parceled out, per se, but the reality is he only gets so many songs in any given show) there's probably other songs of his I'd prefer.

"Intervention": A rocker about a friend in need of the title, with the opportunity for everyone to yell out "Intervention!" (There's also a line where the character of the one being intervened upon says "Fuck y'all, hell no" which could make for those who know the verses to emphasize in their singing along.) This is perhaps inappropriately fun, but that plays well on stage.

"Most Messed Up": Another rocker closes the album, and it's definitely something they can't pull out at G.A. shows (with its very not-kid-friendly chorus—"I am the most messed-up motherfucker in this town"), but the flourish of its finale makes it something I can see turning into what closes the first set at some shows (those where only the grown-ups are there)—it's a song that needs a break afterward, certainly. Long term I can see the novelty of profanity pushing this to the only-occasional status.

So, only a couple clunkers that —not a bad ratio. As to whether any will elevate to staples of every show is questionable, but most still would be welcome mixed in with the rest of their catalog.

(There's a reason I don't write about music much, which should be obvious.)


Yes, if I had seen the band live when they were in town I'd probably have different opinions about which songs worked or didn't. I'm undoubtedly wrong, and like anything else years from now we'll see what really holds up better and what doesn't. But this is what I have to go on at the moment.

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