I've dug the Old 97's since first hearing the Dallas, Texas-formed band's Wreck Your Life album almost 20 years ago. There may have been some minor lulls since then, but not enough to make me lose interest. Still, I wasn't prepared for how consistently excellent the group's new Most Messed Up album is. There may not be a "Victoria" or "Timebomb" ear worm here, but, from start to finish, it's the best Old 97's album yet.
Most Messed Up opens with the almost six-minute "Longer Than You've Been Alive," where guitarist/lead singer informs and entertains while exuberantly chronicling the band's career. And things don't let up from there.
Miller, bassist/vocalist Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples hold little back, musically or lyrically, resulting in a rockin' record with tales of sex, booze and reckless living sprinkled with a handful of F-bombs.
This aura of rock and roll excess is given a distinct air of authenticity by the appearance of Tommy Stinson. This guy's been a member of The Replacements and Guns 'n' Roses, so he knows a thing or two about depravity. The musician joined the quartet while it was recording in Austin, Texas and played guitar on several tracks, adding an extra edge to the proceedings.
Though some of the words are dark, they're shrouded by joyously upbeat and up-tempo tunes that should be a hoot to hear live. Even "This is the Ballad" isn't.
I thought Old 97's showed a strong return to form on its two The Grand Theatre albums, but Most Messed Up illustrates that this group is now at the height of its powers.