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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Old 97's

eclectic reviews and opinions

Old 97's

Too Far To Care

(Elektra, 1997)

I'm gonna be lazy, and share with you a friend's initial assessment of the new Old 97's record: it reminded her of the Alarm and the Long Ryders. I guess most people who remember the Alarm remember them from their U2 fetish days ("Rain in the Summertime," anyone?), but it was 1985 to '87 or so that I loved them best, when they sounded more like the Clash ("Howling Wind", "68 Guns"). And at one of the best concerts of my mispent youth, the Long Ryders actually opened for the Alarm (on the tour for State of Our Union and Strength respectively). My friend saw that tour too, so she knows of what she speaks.

It's something -- a kinda Johnny Cash-y something, at that -- about the way a fat guitar string -- low E or A -- frequently propels the melody. It's something about those crunchy major chords. It's something about some of the songs having the compressed, tense feel of a watch wound nearly too tight. It's something about basically a power pop record with a little bit of country flavor, and it's a lot about being catchy. Hell, I've been walking 'round town (since my bike done got stole this week) regaling the neighborhood with out-of-key, top-of-the-lung versions of the choruses to "Barrier Reef" and "Melt Show" for most of the week, and now some of the other tunes -- "Salome," "Streets of Where I'm From" and "Niteclub," especially -- are running through the creases in my brain.

Lyrically, most of the tunes are from the perspective of the man who can't commit to any woman because some girl broke his heart permanent-like a long time ago. It's pretty hoary territory that I'm not too fond of, but the Old 97's manage some wry twists on the familiar situations. I like the consciousness of the emptiness of the one night stand in "Barrier Reef:"

My heart wasn't in it, not for one single minute
We went through the motions, with her on top and me on liquor
Didn't do no good, well i didn't think it would

and I love the question posed by "Melt Show":

And is this more than some old summer fling?
This thing we have, will it mean anything
When October rolls around?
Will you sober up and let me down?

The words to some of the tunes -- notably "House That Used To Be," which is kind of disturbing if I pay too much attention to it -- don't rise above their subject matter as well as the others, but there are usually enough bits of wordplay -- like, "And it's not funny like it is on t.v., and it's not smart like it is in books" to keep me humming along.

Also worth a mention: the final blast of "Four Leaf Clover," a remake from their first album, is a furious duet with Exene Cervenkova (who seems to have picked up an extra syllable somewhere). It sounds more like X in their prime than anything, since, uh, X in their prime.

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