Last Friday, Old 97's released their twelfth studio album, appropriately titled, "Twelfth." I've listened to it at least that many times since it released, and it already stands among their best (which from me is very high praise).
It's instantly familiar, with Ken Bethea's twangy and hectic-as-heck guitar solos, Murry Hammond's smooth bass lines and harmonies, Philip Peeples' shuffling drum beats, and Rhett Miller's outstanding vocals and clever lyrics. But it's also a mature album, fueled by Miller's five years of sobriety. Instead of "Stoned" or "Let's Get Drunk and Get It On," we get lyrics such as "I thought I was funny livin' life like a lush" and "I like you better than a six pack of beer."
The entire album is one standout song after another, but for me the best is the one-two punch of the side-A closer "Belmont Hotel" (an almost syrupy love song that uses a restored old hotel as a metaphor for a rebuilt and strengthened relationship) and side-B opener "Confessional Boxing" (an absolute banger of a song that showcases the best of the 97's punk roots).
But it's this lyric, from the album's lead track, "The Dropouts," that perhaps sums up the thesis of this entire release:
In a parallel universe, everybody's wasted
In another life where we all live
In the straight world, everybody thinks we've lost it
Oh, but we all see what a joke it is
Old 97's have been together for 27 years, and their cohesiveness really comes through on this release. (Can you think of an American rock band that been together longer with their original lineup? If you can, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter, because I can't.) "Twelfth" isn't revolutionary in its sound. But when you're so good at what you do, you don't have to break new ground, you just have to keep doing what you do so well.
My advice for your Covid-Friday? Get thee to your streaming service of choice and give "Twelfth" a listen (or 12). Everything about this album brings a smile to my face, and we all need as many smiles as we can get these days.