Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The gap between the material Rhett Miller contributes to Old 97’s and what he saves for his solo albums isn’t really all that wide. Miller tends to favor quick tempos, jangly guitars, and melodies that float wistfully through the verses before landing hard on the chorus. But without his regular bandmates, Miller does step more decisively outside the roots-rock circle, veering closer to power-pop or heavily orchestrated cabaret. Miller’s self-titled fourth album sometimes uses production frippery to compensate for songs that feel like retreads, as on “Another Girlfriend,” a drippy shuffle that follows a familiar Miller cadence and sentiment. (The protagonists of Miller’s songs tend to be optimistic sad sacks, bad at love but willing to keep practicing.) Still, “Another Girlfriend” does show a welcome sense of humor, which pervades Rhett Miller to a refreshing degree—especially coming after the more sober-minded 2006 LP The Believer. The new album is generally more upbeat, with fresh Miller classics like the why-can’t-I-get-this-right love song “Caroline” and the witty, self-castigating “I Need To Know Where I Stand” setting a strong tone. If Rhett Miller only intermittently generates excitement, it’s because after 2002’s wonderful The Instigator, Miller seemed bound for more lasting rock glory. Instead he’s settled comfortably into the minor leagues, reliably scattering the kinds of hits that still turn scouts’ heads.


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