Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rhett Miller

  • The Instigator [Elektra, 2002] A-
  • The Believer [Verve Forecast, 2006] A-
  • Rhett Miller [Shout! Factory, 2009] A-
  • The Dreamer [Maximum Sunshine, 2012] B+
  • The Traveler [ATO, 2015] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Instigator [Elektra, 2002]
With producer Jon Brion overdubbing band parts, these pretty-hooks-all-in-a-row end up too pick-'em-up-and-put-'em-down, and some of the lyrics are reductive, victims rather than bright clear examples of the high focus Miller sets his sights on. "Things That Disappear," for instance, doesn't fuse mortality and splitsville the way it means to. On the other hand, "This Is What I Do" is a statement of artistic purpose straightforward and subtle enough to justify anybody's solo debut. In his minor way, Miller is a major talent. I still miss the Old 97's. A-

The Believer [Verve Forecast, 2006]
Miller betrays not a hint of hesitation on his second solo album. He thinks he belongs up there in front of that expert new band, singing or shouting whatever banality, profundity, or turn of phrase he's written down, and his level of enthusiasm combined with his level of craft will convince anyone who still likes, you know, songs. "Blame it on the moonlight/Blame it on plate tectonics"--either one is fine with him. But if you insist on knowing exactly what this believer believes in, it's both. A-

Rhett Miller [Shout! Factory, 2009]
Although it's hard to imagine this album taking on the inevitability of, for instance, The Believer, bear in mind that Miller's songs have a way of kicking in bigger over a longer haul than any reviewer can give him or any skeptic will. On his third solo album, the thematic focus is intense enough to ignite kindling. All but a few songs deal with differing facets of a tempestuous permanent relationship, and that includes the one where a matriarch with 49 strong male grandchildren turns 100 on her steel-clad colony planet in the year 2106. It's called "Happy Birthday Don't Die," and I'm going to assume it's about Miller's daughter until he tells me to stop. A-

The Dreamer [Maximum Sunshine, 2012]
Miller fashions his excellent tunes within such a narrow melodic compass that it always takes too long for the new ones to get sorted, and the Nashville-trad self-production on his fourth solo album doesn't sharpen their outlines much. But as usual the songs come clear eventually, starting with a Ben Kweller collab bearing the aptly ominous title "Lost Without You." It's not the winner here because the lyric could be stronger, which cannot be said of "Complicated Man" or "As Close as I Came to Being Right," not to mention the miserable "Out of Love." Consider those titles. That's why I said ominous. B+

The Traveler [ATO, 2015]
The cleverest, tenderest, and most rakish relationship delineator of his generation comes up with a bunch more ("Jules," "Wanderlust") ***

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