The shit-kicking live shows have always been the strongest point of Old 97's;
in the studio, the band has had puzzlingly bad luck translating its tight
interplay and tighter songcraft. After the immaculate merger of studio brains
and visceral brawn on 1999's Fight Songs, 2001's Satellite
swung wildly for the arenas, and 2005's Drag It Up was a reverb-sodden mess.
Settling into their 15th year, the 97's seem understandably content to live out
their career-band days by trying their best in the studio, then making up the
difference live. Blame It On Gravity's clean, mild production
takes its cues from bands like Okkervil River, where the vocalist is treated as
a poet and put front-and-center in the mix. Things could be worse: Rhett Miller
is still capable of whipping out lovelorn character sketches and one-liners
like no one's business. (The title refers to two alternative explanations for
his lady-friend's tears: "Blame it on gravity Blame it on being a girl.") No
longer prone to aggressively fast rockabilly moments, the band sounds
competent, though rarely spectacular. Gravity should keep fans happy,
the unconverted will stay that way, and no one will be embarrassed.