Within the first few seconds of the new Satellite Rides, fans of Old 97's may find themselves pondering the point at which their favorite alt-country band morphed into a power-pop outfit. They should probably spend the next few seconds figuring out how not to care. "King Of All The World," one of Satellite's numerous stand-out tracks, sounds like the work of a Matthew Sweet disciple; it's a snappy, propulsive pop song that lays the hooks out fast and thick without overstating its case or overstaying its welcome. By the no-less-catchy track that follows, "Rollerskate Skinny," frontman/songwriter Rhett Miller and company have found their twang again, making it clear that they haven't disposed of their country influence, just made it part of a larger vision. Satellite Rides furthers the journey Old 97's began with 1999's Fight Songs—away from the honky-tonks and toward a hybrid rock sound centered on Miller's moody, smart songs, with some estimable help from bassist and songwriter Murry Hammond. Halfway through, the album even takes a breather on the lovely voice-and-guitar ballad "Question," but the band sounds just as intimate on the scorching follow-up "Am I Too Late" and "Bird In A Cage," Satellite's best shot at a semi-hit along the lines of "Nineteen." Where Fight Songs seemed like a transitional effort, Satellite sounds like Old 97's has reached its destination: classic American pop mongrelized to perfection.
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