We all know I'm one of those people who constantly pick and choose songs they relate to, assembling their own personal soundtrack to their life every time a new elements presents itself to muddle up my internal monologue and shift my attitude from complacency to frustration or, y'know, sometimes smitteness. Every time I get a crush on a guy or meet a new friend or embark on a new project, I find myself combing through my iTunes library for hours, making a new playlist of songs that are apt to my current situation. And while you were all overdosing on tryptophan, that's just what I was doing this Thanksgiving weekend. (Although, I was overdosing on tryptophan as well. But I can multi-task, kids!)
I'm not entirely sure how my mind wandered on to the songs of the once-great Old 97's but it happened. I think it might have had something to do with that really cute Fuse TV commercial that had some sock puppets being all adorable with one another while "Question" played. Remember that? I do. It was one of those things that made me realize I wasn't so heart hardened as I like to pretend to me. (Not that I got all misty eyed at lovey-dovey sock puppets. Moving on...) Whether that jogged my memory or not, I found myself desperate to hear "Designs On You" and within minutes, found myself thoroughly nostalgic for the heyday of alt-country. In my high school days, nothing made me feel as cool as spinning Wilco, Old 97's, and other burgeoning indie acts that lifted a heavy influence from the country music of days gone by, serving as a reminder that just because modern country music sucked didn't mean all country music did. In fact, whenever I had to convince my rock n' roll lovin' pals that alt-country was far more awesome than they thought, the searing anger of "Four Leaf Clover" and the edgy longing of "Jagged" were two of my go-to tracks. But what got me to revisit Old 97's this weekend was their sweeter side. Find me a better song about the flirtatious lust you can't shake in regards to someone you want but, for whatever reason, can't have than "Designs On You" and I'll make you a crown and sash for one upping me.
In recent years, lead 97 Rhett Miller has sort of fallen from grace in my eyes, with a cheesy Elliott Smith memorial song (I'd rather just listen to Smith himself, thanks) and a dreadful cover of Jon Brion's "I Believe She's Lying" (I'd rather just listen to the original, thanks). Those two songs alone were enough to leave a bitter taste in my audible mouth and when you take a disinterest in Miller, it can be hard to remember how dang awesome Old 97's were, especially in their glory days. For proof of this, you need to look no further than Hit By A Train: Best Of Old 97's. Loath though I am to recommend a "best of" compilation as a jumping off point for any band, aside from the omission of "Designs On You" (and "New Kid", which the hipper amongst us might recognize from Nathan Fillion's non-space-set tour de force Slither), every single Old 97's tune I loved back in the day is present on Hit By A Train, from the aforementioned "Four Leaf Clover" to should've-been radio hits like "Stoned" and "Time Bomb" all make an appearance, alongside the lovely acoustic tune "Valentine", which I might be slightly biased about because, hey, that's my last name!
The more I rediscover Old 97's, the more I think that my life could really be orchestrated soley by Miller and company. From waking up hung over and hating life ("Every other day is a kick in the shins.") to coming around to the realization that hey, maybe falling in love wouldn't be that bad afterall ("I don't wanna get you all worked up, except secretly I do."), Old 97's have a wonderful knack for describing what it's like to be a twenty-something misfit who drinks too much and occasionally fucks up more than they'd like to admit ("I believe in love but it don't believe in me."). While I can't say I've listened to anything the band's done in nearly ten years time, the strength of the songs on Hit By A Train are undeniably enough to make me not only revisit the Old 97's tracks I know by heart but delve into their newer work as well.
Although, knowing me, I'll probably just put "Desings On You" on repeat and daydream. That's cool too, right?