Album Review: Matchbox Twenty – North

By on Friday, 31st August 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

‘North’ is American band Matchbox Twenty’s first full studio album since 2000’s ‘More Than You Think You Are’. Rob Thomas can’t even rest on the laurels of his Santana collaboration and megahit ‘Smooth’ because – wait for it – that was 13 years ago. You read that right. Thirteen years. I have wondered how many of the original ‘mb20’ fans are still with the band, but at the same time, I’m equally as interested in how this album is going to do, because let’s face it, they have a lot to prove in this post-Bieber / Gaga / Perry era.

The one review I saw online when doing research for my piece here took great glee in trashing this album by comparing it to 1996’s ‘Yourself or Someone Like You’, but the writer doesn’t seem to understand something very important that has become increasingly obvious in nearly all the new music I’ve heard this year from ‘returning bands’: in order to stay valid, you can’t stay in one place musically and not considering the current musical landscape when writing and recording a new album. The quartet – singer Rob Thomas, lead guitarist Kyle Cook, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette – are as familiar and comfortable to me as granny’s knitted sweater, but let’s see about this album’s merits (or downfalls), shall we?

It begins on an uplifting note with ‘Parade’, which feels like Thomas’ self-help leaflet to someone down on their luck who was withdrawn from society: “there is so much more than you can see, if you just stick around /all the streetlight’s secrets are whispering for you to come back out / oh no, there’s so much more that you need to work out / you don’t want that parade to leave you now”. I’m left wondering what this “parade” is; maybe it’s celebrity and the associated paranoia? That’s my best guess right now, but I think it’s a worthy question to ask the band if I ever am presented with the opportunity.

The album will no doubt be remembered for first single and American adult top 10 hit ‘She’s So Mean’ (single review here). It’s testament both to the tightness of this band and Rob Thomas’ songwriting that this is such a corker. Lyrically, it’s humourous, which appeals to both men and women. (Watch the interactive 360 video for the song below.) So does the infectious riff that pervades the whole song. It is now impossible to get it out of my head. It’s really brilliant. ‘Our Song’ is another exceedingly happy, poppy, peppy tune, extolling the virtues of being in – surprise! – a satisfying relationship, thanking your partner in being the person who’s been your rock and promising to be there for him/her forever.

‘Put Your Hands Up’ sees Matchbox Twenty trying to be the Script in its hip hoppy delivered lyrics, but with a dance beat. If this sounds absolutely crazy to you, I’ll assure you it’s not. To be fair, it’s a smart move – how else will the band get played on Radio1, right? Of all the songs on here, this has the best chance of having crossover appeal to the kids of the dads and mums around my age who are going to buy this album. Legally. Another track that has a similar chance? ‘Radio’, where the band channels the John Mellencamp brand of American rock ‘n’ roll. It has horns. What? (‘The Way’, featuring refreshingly different lead vocals from Kyle Cook, also feels very Mellencamp, but doesn’t feel completely right in the delivery.) An unfortunate title befalls ‘Like Sugar’; it’s not sweet and sounds like a stalker’s manifesto. But, again, this is the sound that the kids are eating up these days. It’s forgivable.

Lest you forget that Matchbox Twenty was also the band that brought us the timeless torch songs ‘If You’re Gone’ and ‘Unwell’, there are ballads here. You are rewarded at the end with ‘Sleeping at the Wheel’, which will probably go down in history in the same kind of category as those two songs I just mentioned. ‘Overjoyed’, while also borderline cheesy, manages to not breach the too cloyingly sweet warning level (in a way that is broached by the somewhat irritating ‘How Long’). Watch the video. You’ll see what I mean. And if you are a bloke and feel the waterworks starting to churn as you watch it, do not worry. There’s a highly ranked comment on YouTube that reads “I’m a dude and I cried”. It’s not a smudge on your masculinity. ‘I Will’ is another great ballad, except it drops the energy level of the whole album and is oddly placed right before ‘English Town’, an almost bluesy number that sadly doesn’t conjure up any happy images of the blighty I know. Wait a minute. Why is this track making me think Keane could have written it? Time to wrap this one up, I think…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJatNgi3nT0

While it’s not groundbreaking, ‘North’ doesn’t need to be for a band that has been together for nearly 2 decades. What they’re looking for are hits they can play to fans, both old and new, in the huge venues that will play host to them. Thomas says in the bridge of ‘Parade’, “when the music’s over, but the song stays in your head”, to bring attention, as if asking the listener if ‘North’ is worthy for a stay in one’s head. The answer, for the most part, is a resounding yes.

7.5/10

‘North’, Matchbox Twenty’s first studio album in 12 years, is out Monday (3 September) on Atlantic. Before then, you can have a cheeky listen to a stream here on iTunes for a limited time.

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[…] on dysfunctional relationships: single ‘She’s So Mean’ from their latest album ‘North’ is so damn catchy, but it won’t win any awards in the lyrical meaning department. But as I […]

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