By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
On his fourth solo release, Rhett Miller starts things off with a clamor: Piano flourishes immediately garnish Miller's instantly recognizable voice, accompanied by jangly guitar on the album-opening "Nobody Says I Love You Anymore," a track that sets the tone for the first half of this self-titled release.
As is the case for the following four tracks as well, it doesn't take long to note that this song isn't the same old wussified pop ditty that Miller's solo career has unfortunately become known for. Rather, it's pop-rock, with a heavy emphasis on rock—basically, the kind of thing that The Old 97's aimed for on last year's Blame It on Gravity, as the band continued separating itself from the alt-country tag. The draw of the album's early songs is undeniable—they're lush ("Caroline"), intricate ("I Need to Know Where I Stand"), driving ("Like Love," "Happy Birthday Don't Die") and, at their core, better than a large chunk of the Blame It on Gravity crop, although distinctly missing the token Murry Hammond, Philip Peeples and Ken Bethea parts. Add in those elements, and the first half of the Salim Nourallah-produced Rhett Miller (Nourallah also produced Blame It on Gravity) would probably serve as the best Old 97's record in years, let alone the best Miller record.
Problem is, aside from the eighth track ("If It's Not Love"), the rest of the disc is a reversion to the sappy, instead of the snappy. No one can deny Miller's pop sensibilities, nor his sensitive songwriting, but as the disc declines in pace, it ends up also losing its pull; the disc is just too front-loaded with winners and backloaded with pass-overs.
Still, it's Miller's best solo disc to date and, at the very least, better than the worst 97's record to boot.