Then Rhett Miller started making solo albums. Which made sense: he’s always been prolific as hell, and he wanted to make music outside of the established sound / groove of the Old 97’s.
And so starting with 2002’s The Instigator, Miller has spent his time alternating solo albums with Old 97’s albums , and in fact he has just released his most recent solo album and an Old 97’s Christmas album (neither of which I’ve heard as of this writing), so as far as his fans go, he’s never disappeared.
That said, the first Old 97’s album after he started his solo career, 2004’s Drag It Up, remains my least-favorite of all of their albums, with the standout track a Murry Hammond closing-time weeper. My relative mehness on Drag it Up might be due to Miller not saving all of his best songs for his band, or — more likely — was me having heightened expectations after the triple-whammy of Too Far to Care, Fight Songs and Satellite Rides. There was also a live album — 2005’s Alive and Wired — that I didn’t connect to at all, though maybe all of it could be tracked to my overall mid-2000s ennui.
In any event, they definitely bounced back with 2008’s Blame it On Gravity — let’s add that to the list after moonlight and plate tectonics — which blasts open with “The Fool,” wends its way through country stompers and power rockers before ending with the self-mythologizing of “The One.”
Now when you see a song title from a sex-and-love preoccupied songwriter like Miller called “The One,” your automatic assumption is that it’s some moonstruck declaration of eternal love or some bullshit like that. But luckily, the lyrics almost instantly belie this.
I got a check for nothing
All made out to someone
I truly love myself
Murry says “We’re going to take the money sometime”
Well it might as well be this time
We’re going to spend it all on ourselves
Ken, pick this bank at random
I said “Do we shoot them?”
And he said “Either way’s alright”
Whistling boy, that’s Philip, he’s our drummer
He does the theme from “Endless Summer”
You know he’s waiting out in our ride
That’s right, it’s the story of that time that the Old 97’s were stuck in California with no money and had to take financial matters into their own hands. By robbing a fucking bank. But here’s the thing: they’ve got all of the time in the world.
Throw the money in the van
It all worked out just like we planned
Now the good times have begun
That’s not a fire it’s just the sun
It’s like the old man said
Take the money and run
What’s the rush
Let’s take the One
Let’s take the One
Right. Because as anybody who has ever been to California knows — or should know — if you’ve got more time than sense, then you get your ass out to the U.S. One right there on the fucking Pacific Coast and enjoy the view. Shit, Rox & I did it just a couple of months ago: spent a whole day driving the One from San Francisco to Pismo Beach. Because sometimes that’s what you gotta do.
Oh, and extra points to Texas native Miller for using the proper parlance: not “U.S. One,” or “Highway One,” but the godddamns proper “The One.”
With whistling boy Philip Peeples snaring out on the punky two-step while Ken Berthea throws out spidery riff and Murry Hammond holds the the fort with both his bass and his backing vocals, “The One” invokes Too Far To Care era Old 97s nearly perfectly, which makes sense as it was originally demoed for that record.
By the way, just because this is the last Old 97’s song I’m writing about doesn’t mean they stopped making good, even great music. All four of the albums they’ve made in the past decade — Grand Theater Volumes 1 & 2, Most Messed Up and Graveyard Whistling — have some pretty great songs. If you’ve ever liked the Old 97’s, I’d encourage you to check out the Dylan-ripping “Champagne, Illnois,” the fucksong “Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On” and “Jesus Loves You” (which opens with “Jesus loves you more than I do / Just because he doesn’t know you / Like I do”).
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