There it is toward the end of “Ain’t That Strange,” Track 5 on Rhett Miller’s new solo disc: “Owwww!” the vacationing Old 97s singer yelps. There’s also what sounds like a “Rock out!” just before the guitar break and even an “all right!” as the track winds down. Miller’s party-on exclamations are neither energetic enough to be convincing nor deflated enough to be ironic, so the most probable explanation is that he figured, Well, that’s what you’re supposed to do on a rock song. Miller seems similarly weighted down by orthodoxy on the Jon Brion/Aimee Mann–penned “I Believe She’s Lying,” which chugs along somewhat dully before he wakes it up with a choppy guitar solo. But at least both of those songs, however rote, are gamely executed. If The Believer seems to believe in anything, it’s in the importance of genre (or at least a modest range of subgenres—alt-country, power pop, and adult contemporary). Compare The Believer with Miller’s more subdued 2002 major-label solo debut, The Instigator, and it’s interesting to note how his new album is less consistent but, musically at least, a little bit bolder. The album-opening “My Valentine” opens with about 18 seconds of ethereal chamber pop, courtesy of Patrick Warren’s Chamberlain strings, then soars along on some damn fine power chords and such lyrics as “We gotta smoke some grass/We gotta shake our asses.” Though the disc wants a bit for focus (two songs are even recycled from the Old 97s’ catalog), The Believer is sturdiest when it circles around to jangle and twang—terrain on which Miller is far more sure-footed and that offers better views anyway. “Help Me, Suzanne” blends the happy sorrow of “living on the memory of a dream I once had” with chimey guitars. The arty rock of “Meteor Shower” suggests burnout by matching intelligently stupid lyrics—“Love gets you in the gut/Takes the top off of your head/And makes you wish that you were dead/Drugs help but not enough”—with a descending guitar-and-keys vamp. And The Believer’s obligatory (and superb) torch-and-twanger, “Fireflies,” is where the album crests. Between the track’s slide guitars, duet partner Rachael Yamagata’s weary but tender voice, and lyrics like “You got terrible vision/You should have seen I was leaving/When I first appeared,” it serves up pitch-perfect fake-honky-tonk atmospherics—and shows how far you can go when you chase the right clichés.—Joe Dempsey