Against Me!'s The Original Cowboy consists of studio demos recorded as a trial run before the actual sessions for 2001's As the Eternal Cowboy, and it's one of those records that forces an important question -- why was this released? Apparently, frontman Tom Gabel regrets re-recording the songs at all, thinking now that they were perfect the first time and should have been released as-is, just like was done with "Cavalier Eternal." He may have had a point, because let's be honest -- between the Eternal Cowboy and the Original Cowboy, the songs basically sound the same. Yes, there are subtle hints here and there that you're listening to a different record. "T.S.R." sounds somewhat more immediate and raw as a demo; there's a bit more grit audible in Gabel's voice overall, and the unfinished quality carries on throughout the album where everything seems just a tad dustier and dirtier. A few songs have shorter lead-ins, and there's a brief yet triumphant intro instead of an intermission (though the two sound alike). But usually when demos surface, they're noticeably different than the finished songs -- stripped down melodies on acoustic guitar, choruses missing harmonies, some of the lyrics might even be different. Yet "Unsubstantiated Rumors" is the only song here with significant changes; the demo boasting a dirty, bass-heavy sound with thick guitars and powerful vocals, while the finished version relegates the bass to the background under acoustic strums, sparser delivery, and an occasional triangle ding. Head-to-head comparisons are needed to find the minute differences between the rest of the track listing, and even then, there's nothing major to find. The albums are essentially interchangeable, and especially considering that there's nothing new included (bonus tracks, live cuts, or even more recent demos), The Original Cowboy remains solely for completists who don't mind being reminded that what they really want is just some new Against Me! music already.
AllMusic Review by Corey Apar