Certain Songs #1385: Old 97’s – “Jagged”

Album: Fight Songs
Year: 1999

If the Old 97’s breakthrough album, 1997’s Too Far To Care, was both an amplification and expansion of their alt-country roots, then the follow-up, 1999’s Fight Songs, was a conscious effort to break out of alt-country once and for all.

Instead, they moved more towards straight out rock ‘n’ roll, while still keeping one foot in the alt-country world, with the opening track on Fight Songs, “Jagged” as a near-perfect transition. As well as one of their very best songs.

Opening up with Rhett Miller’s acoustic guitar, joined instantly by an over-fuzzed Ken Berthea electric guitar while drummer Phillip plays an almost-lilting beat. Add a rolling bassline from Murry Hammond, and a steel guitar wailing in the background, and that’s pretty much it for the instrumentation of “Jagged,” which really lives and dies on Miller’s vocal performance.

And he’s probably never better than on the chorus of “Jagged,” where he’s so off-kilter that he’s slipping into a near-falsetto at the end of every single one of those choruses, as if to say that his jaggedness is even affecting his vocal control.

I would give anything not to feel so jagged (jagged)
I’d give anything not to feel so jagged (jagged)
I’d give anything not to feel so jagged

Also helping — with the vocals, not so much Miller’s state of mind — is Murry Hammond, harmonizing at the beginning of the lines and then tossing extra “jaggeds” for emphasis, just in case you didn’t realize how jagged Miller felt.

As a table-setter for the rest of Fight Songs, “Jagged” works perfectly: it sounds like its name, and when its over, you’re eager to see what they’ve got next.

“Jagged”

“Jagged” music video (muddy sound)

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