Old 97's: Most Messed Up

Alt-country pioneers release milestone 10th studio album

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Loved by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Katy Perry, isn't it time Old 97's grabbed some of that limelight for themselves? Here's what we learnt from the band's latest album, Most Messed Up.

Life in a rock band isn’t the healthiest career choice The press blurb describes Most Messed Up as “a rock opera, a way-off Broadway musical about a musician’s life, loves and lubrication.” Texan combo Old 97’s have been at it for 20 years now, which clearly lends itself to looking back over their history. The epic Longer Than You’ve Been Alive fills you in on two decades of hard-livin’ roots‘n’roll, frontman Rhett Miller recalling oceans of booze, mountains of weed and gobfuls of pills. Not to mention frustration. “It must be hard to get partnered with me,” he sings, “some narcissism, some OCD”.

**…It sounds like plenty of fun though **Old 97’s are country boys at heart, informed by the punky clatter of The Bottle Rockets or those other great Midwestern heroes, The Replacements. In fact, the latter’s Tommy Stinson (lately of Guns N’ Roses) makes a guest appearance here. They exhibit the same sense of self-destructiveness too, though the overriding message of Most Messed Up seems to be that the peaks make the troughs worthwhile. Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On is as knowingly dumb as the title implies. Which is no bad thing really.

There’s a lot to be said for longevity Despite going out of their way to appear like a bunch of wasted rock cliches, Old 97’s are in fact an unusually erudite lot, tempering their ruckish bravado with genuine insight, emotional depth and self-reverential humour. What’s more, Miller is a first-rate storyteller in the finest Southern tradition. Following the well-received double-whammy of The Grand Theatre Volume One (2010) and Two (2011), Most Messed Up is right there with the best of their weighty catalogue. Like good wine and raw denim, they get better with age.

The best bands sometimes get their just desserts The late Waylon Jennings adored the band so much that they cut some songs together in the studio (finally issued as last year’s imaginatively-titled EP, Old 97’s & Waylon Jennings) and a diverse celebrity fan base runs from Springsteen and Katy Perry to Zach Galifianakis and Vince Vaughn. You can also find Old 97’s music in various movies (The Break-Up, Ed, Veronica Mars) and even on episodes of much-missed TV comedy Scrubs, but they’ve never been ones to trouble the mainstream. Until now, that is. Most Messed Up entered the Billboard chart at No.30, easily the biggest showing of their entire career.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.