100 for 2000 – #13. Old 97’s – Satellite Rides

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2001 – #3. Old 97’s – Satellite Rides
(Elektra)

I was buying far more music than I could listen to at this time. I think when my diet was cigarettes and coffee, and my other expenses were cigarettes, it all went to CDs really. I had picked up a couple of Old 97’s albums as they were a well respected alt-country band. But I wasn’t ready for Satellite Rides, and it’s power pop charms.

Talking about new records is one thing, but it’s a narrow view. I was also deeply into Bob Dylan, Robert Wyatt, Leonard Cohen and other tune-lite serious stuff. I was into a lot of indie sad stuff. I was into a lot of old time dark country stuff.

Hearing this record, even at the time, it felt like a I was discovering music for the first time. First hearing the Beatles, the Monkees or the Kinks. Teenaged love songs that unwrapped my confused teenage heart. This record made me feel young, at a time when I was trying to be too old for my age.

The Old 97’s were, by all accounts, one of the best alt-country bands around, especially in a live setting. They made one of the best, flawless country rock records with Too Far Too Care. But signs of change creeped in with their 1999 album, Fight Songs. A pop influence widened their sound. Hints of Ray Davies’ structured songwriting and Belle And Sebastian’s whimsy were added to the arsenal.

By the time of Satellite Rides, there’s barely a handful of songs that sound the freight train country punk that was the Old 97’s trademark. Instead it’s full of meaty, riff heavy power pop gems. The album opens with three such songs – King Of All the World, Rollerskate Skinny and Buick City Complex. All three rock, all three have big fun choruses, all three are about how girls are lovely. It’s really all about girls.

The love song obsession culminates with Question – possibly their most famous song. Used in many TV shows, it’s got a lyrical simplicity and a busker’s guitar quality making it universal. It is, in an album full of songs for the girls, this one really is for the girls.

So many great songs follow on. Weightless is one of singer Rhett Miller’s most touching vocal performances. Designs On You, the second single from the album, is just as rocking, and sexually active, as any of the songs here. Am I Too Late, Can’t Get A Line…I’m just making lists really. It’s all great.

The album was critically divided, mainly because old fans still wanted the country stuff – which they still did well. Rhett started a solo career, where he could let his pop stuff take flight, while still playing with the Old 97’s. Even better music was to come….

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