Recently, there have been scattered reports that the Old 97's were splitting up, after an eight-year run of fight songs and satellite rides. Some say the truth is this: The Old 97's have been dropped from the Elektra Records roster, even though it was reported as recently as a couple of months ago that the label had picked up its option to release three more albums from the band. Though they've garnered plenty of critical acclaim--this year's Satellite Rides made Rolling Stone's Rest of the Best list in its recent year-end wrap-up--the 97's had never really lived up to Elektra's sales estimates. (And, OK, most of the critical fellatio centered on front man Rhett Miller and his extremely well-behaved hair.) Even with a hard push from the label on Satellite Rides, they still weren't able to do much better than they had on their two previous efforts for Elektra, 1997's Too Far to Care and 1999's Fight Songs. The fact that Elektra had apparently finally given up on them shouldn't come as too big of a shock to anyone.
The rumor mill has also churned out this little tidbit: All but one of the 97's had been expunged from Elektra. Seems that the label decided to hold onto (surprise, surprise) Miller for at least one more album, the solo disc he finally 'fessed up to planning. Deal is, if Miller doesn't sell at least 75,000 copies of his solo record, then he, too, will be officially off the clock at Elektra. Here's where it gets a little shady. Apparently, none of the other three 97's--bassist Murry Hammond, drummer Philip Peeples or guitarist Ken Bethea--is allowed to play on Miller's solo effort. (Miller is set to begin recording the disc in February, possibly with producer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, who's worked with Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Macy Gray and Rufus Wainwright, among many others.) In fact, the impression that we got after talking about this is that not only is the rest of the band not allowed to play with Miller on this record, none of them is allowed to record together at all until after Miller sinks or swims.
What we were basically hearing was this: If the 97's wanted to regroup and make another album for another label, they couldn't. If Miller and Hammond wanted to record together as the Ranchero Brothers, their longtime side project, they couldn't. Possibly, even if Hammond wanted to record a solo record--and he certainly has enough songs to do so--he couldn't. The only thing they're definitely allowed to do is play shows. (And they've got one coming up on December 28 at the Ridglea Theater, with Slobberbone and [DARYL]. You can get a warm-up the night before when Satellite Riders, a 97's cover band, is at Sons of Hermann Hall.)
The rumormongers did have some good news, sort of. All was still well in the Old 97's camp--for the moment. Word we got was Miller saying that there's no way he'll sell 75,000 copies of a solo record, so hey, let's just get this over with and get back to being a band. But, really, how believable is that? No, we're sure Miller probably said something like that, and he probably sort of means it, too, yet do you really think Hammond, Peeples and Bethea are fine and dandy with sitting on the sidelines while Miller suddenly finds himself as the all-time quarterback? (Touch-football reference.) We know Bethea had already talked about recording a disc of his own, and Hammond probably will, too. So at best, it appears as if the Old 97's are on indefinite hiatus (only a few weeks ago, the idea wasn't to record a new album until 2003 or 2004). At worst, it looks as though the Old 97's have gone too far for anyone to care anymore.
The bottom line, as near as we can tell: Yes, Miller will be recording a solo record, with Brion at the helm. And yes, Elektra's future plans for the 97's depend on the success or failure of said solo record; if it does well, they'll be willing to release another record from the band, say, in 2004. But no, the 97's aren't breaking up. Repeat: Are. Not. Breaking. Up. In fact, the current plan calls for them to play together every three or four months, depending, of course, on how well Miller's solo tour goes. So there you have it. Maybe...
Now that we've filled you with holiday cheer, The Legendary Fritz has released a seven-track holiday EP, Twas the Mic Before Christmas. The disc either serves as a first taste for those who haven't heard his double-disc Greatest Hits (released earlier this year) or something to tide you over until the next joint. Fritz dropped by the office last week to hand deliver a copy and mentioned that he's re-releasing Greatest Hits next year in a single-disc, 24-song strong version. The best of the best, you might say. Fritz will be playing at the Liquid Lounge on December 28, so ask him about all this and more then...
Where are you going for New Year's Eve? Among other things, Brutal Juice, Speedealer and Clutch Cargo are at Trees; Flickerstick, Chomsky, Lucy Loves Schroeder and Kissinger perform at Deep Ellum Live; Shiloh, Thyme, Karter, Zapruder Sequence and a bunch of other bands play at Galaxy Club; Pimpadelic, um, is at Ridglea Theater; and Sugarbomb, Bowling for Soup and OHNO play Club Clearview. But we all know where you really wanna go: New Year's Evil at Bronco Bowl Theater, with Drowning Pool, Sevendust, Union Underground, Gasoline and Big Iron. You know, it's hard to even type that sentence; even our computer knows that there's something very, very wrong about it.
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