"We've been doin' this longer than you've been alive/Propelled by some mysterious drive …" With those words pondering the ups and downs of their career, the Old 97's kick off their tenth studio album, and if this band sounds older and just a bit wiser 20 years on from their first full-length, Most Messed Up is the album where they happily cop to their status as rock & roll lifers, and this set plays like the work of a veteran band in the best of all possible ways. After the ambitious scope of the Grand Theatre albums and the poppier tone of Blame It on Gravity, Most Messed Up sounds casual and easygoing while also getting back to the basics of the Old 97's approach -- this sounds like the band rolled in, hit record, and let it rip, and the final product is tight, raucous, and the hardest rockin' set of tunes these guys have offered up since 1999's Fight Songs. Dropping occasional f-bombs, frequently celebrating the virtues of booze, and offering to take his gal to a cheap hotel for a wild night, Rhett Miller sounds like he's on a tear with his buddies and loving every moment of it, while Ken Bethea's guitar is fittingly ragged and roaring, exploring the space between twang and bark, and bassist Murry Hammond and drummer Philip Peeples keep the show rolling forward with the implacable honky tonk swing that's been their trademark for years. If this leans more to rock & roll than Texas honky tonk, it still sounds like classic Old 97's, and Most Messed Up shows these guys can commendably hold up their rowdy side while making the kind of elemental Lone Star music that still makes them a kick to hear. Sometimes a willingness to toss off responsibility once in a while is a sure sign of maturity, and if you want to hear a golden example of this thinking in action, the Old 97's have one for you with Most Messed Up.
Most Messed Up Review
by Mark Deming