With his bandmates settling into married lives and/or fatherhood, Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller takes advantage of a band break here to show off the pop instincts he's sharpened over the past few yea

With his bandmates settling into married lives and/or fatherhood, Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller takes advantage of a band break here to show off the pop instincts he's sharpened over the past few years on this, his solo debut. Though delivering a batch of his hookiest songs—lacing these tunes with ah-ahs, la-la-las, and ba-ba-bahs —not much here really compares to such killer Old 97's pop cuts as "Oppenheimer," "Murder (Or a Heart Attack)," or "King of All of the World." Though this is a more subdued effort than the rollicking Old 97's sets, these tracks lack the magnetism of Miller's material with the band. Still, there's much here—including the pretty yet rockin' "Come Around," the strummy midtempo "Things That Disappear," the nicely arranged "Point Shirley," and the deliciously saccharine "Four-Eyed Girl"—that fans will devour. Featuring L.A. studio drummer extraordinaires Josh Freese and Jim Keltner, as well as appearances by Robyn Hitchcock, John Doe, and Davíd Garza, among others, The Instigator is a solid solo bow that falls far short of the breakthrough potential Miller consistently seems on the verge of harnessing.—WO