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Five essential Old 97’s songs

Posted 11:43pm on Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2014

Narrowing down the catalog of the Old 97’s to just five songs is a fool’s errand — everyone has their favorites, and everyone’s favorites, give or take a couple unimpeachable cuts, are different. (For instance, it pains me to leave off Barrier Reef, from Too Far to Care, if only because the highlight of any 97’s gig is hearing the crowd scream the indelible line “My name’s Stewart Ransom Miller/I’m a serial lady-killer.”)

Nevertheless, if you’re new to the band and would like a sonic sampler platter to get you started, here are five tracks that best encapsulate the singular Old 97’s sound.

Timebomb

Arguably the Old 97’s calling card, this rowdy rave-up which opens 1997’s Too Far to Care with a bang — “I got a timebomb/In my mind, Mom,” Rhett Miller howls, hanging on for dear life — still kicks like a mule nearly two decades on. It’s a giddy blast, and one that gives listeners a good idea what they’re in for live.

Salome

Miller and the fellas aren’t always running at full tilt, as this comparatively tender ballad, also from Too Far to Care, demonstrates. An almost tangible romantic longing threads through the bleak, beautiful lyrics — “It’s over now/Yeah and so are we” hits with all the finality of the grave.

Buick City Complex

A gorgeous slice of mid-tempo aimlessness, this gem from 2001’s underrated Satellite Rides finds Miller lost in the woman he loves, with the outside world all but falling away. “They’re tearing the Buick City Complex down/I think we’re the only people left in town,” he sings on the soaring chorus, which is spiked with a faintly lecherous twist: “Do you wanna mess around?”

I’m a Trainwreck

“I’m a trainwreck/I’m a mess/But I’m gonna take you dancing/Put on your party dress,” sings Miller in this cut from the second installment of The Grand Theatre (released in 2011), a collection that was honed over a week spent at Dallas’ Sons of Hermann Hall. Although the lyrics suggest frivolity, there’s a burned-out indifference in Miller’s voice, a resignation to the idea that Friday night has rolled around again. Intentionally or not, it indicates the direction the 97’s would take with their next record.

Longer Than You’ve Been Alive

The fuse that’s lit at the beginning of the newest 97’s LP, Most Messed Up, Longer Than You’ve Been Alive catalogs 20 years spent jumping off drum risers, drinking way too much and earning your stripes, one gig at a time. “You should know the truth/It’s both a blast and a bore,” Miller confides, although it’s hard to imagine him and his bandmates doing anything else.

— Preston Jones

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