The Old 97s "Most Messed Up"

The first thing that stands out upon the first listen to Old 97s' new album Most Messed Up is that this is their most raw album when it comes to language. There are 12 tracks on it, and fully half of them have words that could get a radio station into trouble with the FCC for playing them. That said, this is easily the band's strongest album in years. There's a wild abandon that is plain fun to hear and hasn't been this overt since the band's 1990s albums. The album's first track admits that there might have been a little water-treading somewhere along the way, as in the lines, "most of our shows were a triumph of rock/although some nights I might have been checkin’ the clock."

That song, "Longer Than You've Been Alive," is a cathartic and wry observation of behind the scenes of a longtime working band, and it sets the stage for a number of songs that are told from a musician's perspective. Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are the predominant themes on most of Most Messed Up. In fact, it's easy to hear this album as a rock opera about a substance-abusing rocker coming to terms with, if not improving, his status as a mess of a person.

Helping the vibe on the record is Tommy Stinson, member of The Replacements and Guns N' Roses, who plays and sings on a number of songs on the album (most audibly on the album's final two songs, "Intervention" and "Most Messed Up"). Stinson's presence helps both the themes and the exuberance of the album and doubtless helped to shape the direction of the album.

This fall marks the 20th anniversary of  Old 97s' debut album, and Most Messed Up underscores the best of what made them a fan favorite for the past two decades—catchy songs, witty lyrics, and an energetic alt-country sound that's a little rough around the edges.

Mike Sauter (Music Director/Midday Host)