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Album Review
Rhett Miller - Rhett Miller Album Cover

Rhett Miller - Rhett Miller

Reviewed by
7.3
Rhett Miller - Rhett Miller
Record Label: Shout! Factory
Release Date: June 9, 2009
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
Rhett Miller didn't have to release another album to prove his songwriting mettle. After all, he has two critically acclaimed solo discs to his name and a decade-long run with one of alternative country's foremost outfits. But the nature of being a musician is constantly finding new challenges and penning new material, and so it is that on June 8, the cowboy of cool will release his fourth solo album, a self-titled effort, drawn mostly from the death of his grandmother and his literary hero, David Foster Wallace.

Blending dark and distorted concepts with buoyant, bubbly sentiments is nothing groundbreaking, but what Miller does here is truly quite puzzling. The album opens with the sardonic, "Nobody Says I Love You Anymore," a song rooted heavily in Foster Wallace-like wordplay, most especially in the opening verses, It rattles and hums and hisses along, and sounds more like Old 97s than just about anything else in his solo repertoire. Despite that, it's a rather lackluster album opener and is thankfully saved by the airy "Like Love," a breezy pop gem that's as entertaining as anything he's released so far. Rather than back it up with another homerun, he dives into "Caroline," a slower tempo effort that falls apart towards the end. There's a bright spot though in fourth song "I Need To Know Where I Stand," a playful, alt-country ditty that's overly saccharine, and yet somehow undeniably catchy.

"Happy Birthday Don't Die," is a bristling rocker and the loudest of the dozen that tells a tale of his two-year-old daughter a century into the future wandering aimlessly on her 100th birthday. Sonically and lyrically is both alarming and annoying and one feels certain that Foster Wallace played a heavy hand in penning this one. The disappointment from "Happy Birthday," is followed by "Bonfire," another boring ditty that borrows a lot from "I Need to Know Where I Stand." It isn't until "Haphazardly," that he finally finds his groove again. That effort is followed up by the disappointing "If It's Not Love," a co-write with Vertical Horizon's Matt Scannell that's far too formulaic and boring to make any real impact and then there's the uninspiring and stale "Another Girlfriend." And then as if to atone for all the missteps, Miller finishes the album with three of his best songs to date: the emotionally wracked "Refusing Temptation," the poignant ballad "Lashes," and the equally romantic lullaby "Sometimes."

What's most disappointing about this effort is the inconsistency. Few singer/songwriters in contemporary music have a better handle on pop songs than Miller. On The Believer and The Instigator he wrote songs that were smart, sexy and literate. Esquire even labeled The Believer "the thinking man's pop record" and The Jon Brion-produced The Instigator was on many Top 10 lists in 2002, And then there's this. The pop tracks don't pop and the slower songs don't roll. While much of the blame goes to Miller for falling short, one has to throw some of the blame on the producer.

Having worked with Jon Brion and George Drakoulias on his previous two efforts, one was hoping he might have tabbed someone equally as impressive. Instead he chose Austin's Salim Naroullah, who also produced the 2008 critically acclaimed Old 97’s release, Blame It On Gravity. While that album crackled and bristled in all the right places, this self-titled effort does anything but. Perhaps Naroullah just didn't hone in on what Miller is about. Even with a stellar backing band (Brion on bass, The Apples In Stereo’s John Dufilho on drums and Billy Harvey on guitar) there's still a huge chunk missing.

If there's any positive here, it's his always consistent lyrics, which are first-rate and entertaining. But an album has to do far more than string together clever verses. It needs to hold together from front to back and never allow cracks to seep in. Unfortunately, that's what has happened here. Miller is fortunate though. Whereas some artists rely heavily on one creative output and rely on that album to either sink or swim, he's got a 15-year-old Austin outfit that draws nothing but positive marks wherever it goes. Oh, to be so privileged!
 
Displaying posts 1 - 13 of 13
08:19 AM on 05/13/09
#2
Liter-O-Cola
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Well, that's kind of disappointing...I've been looking forward to this album. It sounds like you liked a handful of songs though, and any new Miller/Old 97's gems are welcome in my rotation.
09:41 AM on 05/13/09
#3
Gregory Robson
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Well, that's kind of disappointing...I've been looking forward to this album. It sounds like you liked a handful of songs though, and any new Miller/Old 97's gems are welcome in my rotation.
It's a major letdown my friend. Of the 12, only five or six really knock me over the head.
09:56 AM on 05/13/09
#4
Liter-O-Cola
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It's a major letdown my friend. Of the 12, only five or six really knock me over the head.
That really sucks, he's such a great songwriter -- you're so right about him having such a handle on pop songs. I'll still pick up the album though. I hope the next Old 97's album isn't a disappointment, Blame it on Gravity was great.
10:06 AM on 05/13/09
#5
Gregory Robson
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That really sucks, he's such a great songwriter -- you're so right about him having such a handle on pop songs. I'll still pick up the album though. I hope the next Old 97's album isn't a disappointment, Blame it on Gravity was great.
It won't be. That's four creative minds that are so far ahead of the curve.
I'd expect only superlatives.
10:22 AM on 05/13/09
#6
mybreakingpoint
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Oh man, I hope this isn't really as big of a let-down as you made it sound. Great review, but Miller is one of my heroes, it's hard for me to think for a second that can make a sub-par record, since he hasn't in over 10 years.
10:28 AM on 05/13/09
#7
Gregory Robson
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Oh man, I hope this isn't really as big of a let-down as you made it sound. Great review, but Miller is one of my heroes, it's hard for me to think for a second that can make a sub-par record, since he hasn't in over 10 years.
I really do think you'll be disappointed. But I hope for your sake, you aren't.
12:10 PM on 05/13/09
#8
Chico
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Cool review, definitely check it out. Come Around and Our Love has been played in my playlist a lot recently.
01:58 PM on 05/13/09
#9
ExplodingStereo
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I haven't listened to Rhett in ages, I totally forgot he was still going solo. I might have to buy one of his albums now, which one would you say is his best?
04:31 PM on 05/13/09
Keagan Ilvonen
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I didn't even know he had a new album. I will have to check this out.
01:15 AM on 05/14/09
Nick_K99
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I haven't listened to Rhett in ages, I totally forgot he was still going solo. I might have to buy one of his albums now, which one would you say is his best?
Get the believer, it is an incredible album!
04:43 AM on 05/14/09
Gregory Robson
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I haven't listened to Rhett in ages, I totally forgot he was still going solo. I might have to buy one of his albums now, which one would you say is his best?
The Believer is pretty incredible. The Instigator is almost as good. It will be the best $25 spent, i can assure you that. Don't waste your time on this one though.
12:00 PM on 05/14/09
Liter-O-Cola
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