First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2006, Volume 13, #2
Written by John Metzger
Rhett Miller may have begun his career delivering cowpunk with his band Old 97ís, but in recent years, his songwriting has moved in a decidedly more pop-oriented direction. With the release of his third solo effort The Believer, his transformation is now complete, and although there are traces of his twang-infused past lurking beneath the surface of his songs, the set is largely steeped in the alternative fare of Weezer and Fountains of Wayne. Thatís not necessarily a bad thing, either. After all, growth is important for an artist, and Miller already had accomplished everything he could within the constraints of an alt-country framework. Given that his greatest strength consistently has been his gift for concocting melodies that are instantly familiar and gratifying, he easily ought to have been able to make this stylistic leap, but while the material on The Believer is undeniably infectious, his overly sweetened approach ultimately proves to be the collectionís downfall.
Much like he did on his previous solo outing The Instigator as well as on Drag It Up, the latest endeavor by Old 97's, Miller avoids the raggedness that gave his earlier output an edge. The result is that many of his tunes quickly turn from being pleasantly appealing to being frustratingly irksome. Thatís not to say that there arenít a few irresistible gems tucked inside The Believerís made-for-The O.C. mediocrity ó the easy-going, Jayhawks-style jangle of Help Me Suzanne; the shimmering, T-Rex-meets-The Monkees fusion of Ainít that Strange; and the sexual tension that pervades My Valentine, for example ó and this time, at least, he puts some firepower behind the glossiness of his arrangements, so much so that it frequently lifts the albumís more mundane moments. Granted, a majority of pop songs are innocuous, but the best of them tend to resonate in ways that go beyond an ingratiatingly simple melody. Though Miller has a tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, he also has a knack for tapping into deeper emotions without becoming mired in them, and between Fireflies (his duet with Rachel Yamagata) and the title track (his ode to Elliott Smith), he makes The Believerís weaknesses far more tolerable.
The Believer is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Of Further Interest...
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box