The Misfit

Rhett Miller

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The Misfit Review

by Mark Deming

When Rhett Miller released The Instigator in 2002, more than a few Old 97's fans were worried that the group's charismatic frontman and ace songwriter was going to leave alt-country behind in favor of the pop stardom that seemed to be his for the asking. 20 years later, it's safe to assume that Miller isn't going to be topping the charts anytime soon, and he seems to know it. Miller's 2018 solo LP The Messenger found him dipping his toes into more experimental waters, conjuring a set of idiosyncratic smart pop with the help of producer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Cohen, a former member of Apollo Sunshine and Yellowbirds. The result was one of Miller's most interesting solo releases to date, and he teamed up with Cohen again for 2022's The Misfit. Since Miller rarely works with the same people twice as a solo artist, this is a bit of a surprise, and in their return engagement, they build on the eccentricity of The Messenger and deliver the most satisfyingly weird release of Miller's career. Steeped in electronic keyboards with Miller's voice gliding through clouds of echo and reverb, The Misfit is a sterling exercise in off-kilter psychedelic-infused indie pop that manages to sound not a bit like the Old 97's or the lion's share of Miller's solo work. Even the relatively straightforward numbers like "Beautiful Life" and "Let Me Go There with You" drip with atmosphere as Cohen's melodies turn with the evocative tone of Big Star's 3rd, and his willingness to explore the outer boundaries of Miller's music yields potent results on "Heart Attack Days" and his slightly bent homages to the Beatles ("Go Through You") and Tom Petty ("Follow You Home"). Part of what makes this collaboration so rewarding is the strength of Miller's lyrics; he wrote the words to these tunes while Cohen penned the music, and instead of his usual tales of life as a lothario, The Misfit deals with relationships with greater honesty and no small amount of introspection. Even if they're not presented with their usual clarity, his vocals are more than up to the challenge of this more mature material. The Misfit is an album where Rhett Miller has taken a whole bunch of chances, and nearly all of them pay off. Doubtless there are fans who will not know what to make of this music, but those who investigate with an open mind will be amply rewarded.

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