March 9, 2005

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Rhett Miller, The Believer
Verve Records, 2006

It was presumptuous of Rhett Miller to assume that fans of his mother outfit, Old 97’s, were going to put up with his parlaying his Brokeback-bait looks and A-student songwriting into an unintentionally minimalist alt-country version of Goo Goo Dolls in 2002’s The Instigator, but the contract is still in force, which says… bupkis, since Verve may honestly not have any idea where their Dizzy Gillespie royalties could be better spent. In The Believer, Miller outs himself as a Billboard-CMJ double agent who hasn’t yet decided whether to sponge off Beat Happening (“My Valentine”) or 70s arena-pop (the “Fireflies” duet with Rachael Yamagata is an indie “I Got You Babe”). Not that Al Swearengen would boot him out of the Gem for that alone — there’s also the fact he’s lassoed yet another clock-watching force of cocktail-hour bit players (a Tom Petty producer, Aimee Mann’s this and Beck’s that) for Entertainment Tonight blab fodder. And just like that, Verve is into old-style writeoffs this year. C+

— Eric W. Saeger