I liken my ranking all the Old 97s' albums to asking a parent of 9 to rank their kids in order. Not that the Old 97s albums are like my children, but I have a hard time talking poorly about any of them. And in that respect, being low on the list here doesn't really mean an album was bad, but rather, just not as good, in my mind, as the ones ahead of it. Thus, the lowest ranking album here ranks well above a great deal of other music for me. I made a concerted effort to have no ties, because if I did consider them, then why bother making the list to begin with?
For those of you already skeptical of my competency, credentials, or qualifications to rank the band's catalog, I can only say that I have been a fan since I was 16, which was some time ago (pre-Fight Songs, to be specific), and I have followed the band and its releases throughout that period. On that note, I welcome you to discuss/challenge/argue the rankings in the comments section below.
9. Blame It On Gravity
Somebody had to be last, right? I do not dislike this album by any means, but I simply do not go back and listen to it a great deal. I love "The One" and "Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue" as well as a few others. It was a close call between this and number 8, but my reasoning is explained below.
"Won't Be Home" is easily one of the best 97s songs of all time, and even more importantly a staple of the live show. Other notable tracks include "No Mother" and "Valium Waltz." However, as an entire album, this isn't one I come back to.
The first installment of The Grand Theatre was hailed by many as the band's finest work in years. While I generally agree with that statement and enjoy the album, it has not become a favorite of mine. "Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)" and "Champaign, Illinois" are among the best tracks, and most definitely stand alongside the band's best work.
Here is where the rankings got a little tricky. What it came down to was a comparison of my personal favorites on this and the next album on the list. I still remember hearing Rhett play "Designs On You" solo at Trees in Dallas before the album came out, and that song probably remains my favorite on the album. Satellite Rides is a great record from start to finish, with other favorites being "Rollerskate Skinny" and "Up the Devil's Pay."
The record that started this whole thing. Pretty awesome the band is still around 8 albums later. The songs on this record are pure classics to me: "Hands Off," "If My Heart Was a Car," and "Desperate Times." I have told the story before, but a formative music memory of mine is the first time I heard Rhett play "Wish the Worst" in Dallas with the entire Gypsy Tea Room singing along.
Fight Songs holds a place for me that is tied as much to the time of its release as anything else. It is one of the first new releases I remember being truly excited for. That is, I remember the promo for it and thinking how much I couldn't wait for it to come out, followed by making a special trip to buy it the first week it was out (pre-download days, kiddos). Nostalgia aside, it is a great album, although perhaps poppier than even the band wanted it to be. As much as anything, this album is #4 because of the fact that it has my two favorite Murry songs: "Crash on the Barrelhead" and "Valentine." Pure gold.
"Hey look, it's the new guy." Yes, it may seem a bit premature to rank the new album this high, but I think the songs on this record are incredibly strong. Maybe I do have a bit of "new car fever" over it, but by and large, I think this one is going to have great lasting power. The first three songs are near-perfect, and the rest of the album follows closely behind. I put it at #4 after a couple of listens, and a few more later, it moved to #3. This record stands as a real testament to the band's relevance in indie music, and I hope they see some great success with it. Perhaps it will vault them to the higher level of notoriety they have long deserved.
In my estimation, this was the album that firmly established Old 97s' sound. I have to emphasize that this album's rank is not about nostalgia. It is simply a legendary album. Besides the obvious crowd favorite "Victoria," it is filled with amazing songs like "Dressing Room Walls," "Bel-Air," "Old Familiar Steam," and "The Other Shoe." Now out with bonus tracks as a reissue, this album is an essential for any fan.
I could go on forever about this album, but for the time being, I won't. Perhaps you can expect a more detailed exposition on it next June on its 15th anniversary. In short, Too Far to Care changed everything for me. Start to finish, I maintain it is among the best albums ever made.