I remember the first time I saw the Old 97's play the Union Terrace more than a decade ago. Rhett Miller was a punky-looking dude who wore oversized glasses back then. The band played endearing bad-boy songs like "Jack the Necrophiliac" and reveled in their own bawdy cleverness.
Entertaining, yes, but I didn't get blown away by the Old 97's until 1999. I carried Fight Songs with me everywhere that year. From the first burst of growly electric guitars on "Jagged," it was one of the best collections of country-pop I'd ever heard.
So my expectations were high for Blame It on Gravity. The fact that I know just how good the Old 97's can be explains part of the fierce disappointment I felt spinning my way through these 13 new tracks.
The disc seems like the product of a band that felt obligated to crank out another record. There's no inspired drive to express something, and the song constructions fall back on formula far too often. The cowpoke, two-step beats are redundant by the third track. The Hawaiian luau-themed "She Loves the Sunset" is as far removed from the greatness of the Old 97's as "Kokomo" was from the Beach Boys' good vibrations.
Here's hoping that next time out the Old 97's will put a little fight back in their songs.