Single Review: Matchbox Twenty – She’s So Mean

By on Tuesday, 14th August 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

When we were in Liverpool, I asked John if he had heard of the band Matchbox Twenty. He said he hadn’t. I rectified that by sending him a link to the video for ‘Push’; I forget the exact wording but he considered it definitely cheesy. No matter. Matchbox Twenty is firmly entrenched in my musical roots.

In the early days of the internet, I wasn’t listening to BBC Radio and only had local radio to keep me company. Matchbox Twenty (then known as matchbox20) were as subversive as an American band could be signed to Atlantic Records; they were on a sub-label of Atlantic, Lava Records, and therefore didn’t have the big label backing or money of the artists on the Atlantic roster proper. But through university radio and music videos for ‘Push’, ‘3 AM’ and ‘The Real World’, all mainstays of Total Request Live on MTV pushed the band into mainstream popularity.

At the beginning, I appreciated them for their radio-friendly tunes and the singability of their songs. But my best friend in university adored them, insisting that I should have a further listen. I agreed to, but only if she was willing to give the Backstreet Boys a spin. (Yes, I know what you’re saying. But you have to think about the times and how dependent we were on the radio back then when you didn’t have even MySpace to surf. For the record, I still think they had good harmonies.)

Things appeared to be going pear-shaped for the band when singer Rob Thomas accepted an invitation to collaborate with songwriter Itaal Shur to write a song for Carlos Santana for his comeback album. Legend has it that Santana heard the song and decided it sounded better if Thomas sang it and bada bing, bada boom, there we have it, the origin of ‘Smooth’, which became this massive hit no-one in America or Britain (or the rest of the world for that matter) could escape from. It was everywhere. With such success without his band and starting his new life with new wife and model Marisol Maldonado, you wouldn’t have faulted Thomas if he left the band behind to pursue a solo career. (Which he did do for a time, rather unconvincingly, I’d like to note.)

Yet second album ‘Mad Season’ followed, with some absolutely beautiful songs ‘If You’re Gone’ and ‘Bed of Lies’. To our relief, they weren’t through…yet. Another two albums, bookended by hiatuses, came in the Noughties but I never felt they ever matched the heights of raw power of debut ‘Yourself or Someone Like You’ or the gorgeousness of ‘Mad Season. However, in 2012 we see Matchbox Twenty returning to the scene with a new album ‘North’ out in September, which has been preceded by single ‘She’s So Mean’.

It’s got a simple enough title – “she’s so mean”. There is no hiding the subject of the song. Is this going to be a sob story, or a ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ kind of thing? I’m not sure where I should direct you first, to listen to the song or to watch the video. For the sake of this review, let’s start with the promo.

What is the first thing you see? Hipster jeans. In burgundy. My initial thought? Oh no. No no no. I don’t know if I can handle Matchbox Twenty becoming hipsters. However, as the screen shows the instruments being played, I breathe a sigh of relief. One thing that Rob Thomas has always been is someone who doesn’t take himself personally; I laughed out loud at the facial expressions he gave as the woman walked in and pushed his mike stand out of the way. Musically, the earworm of a guitar riff stands out as something you can’t help but take notice of.

Lyrically, it’s not Shakespeare: “all her clothes are on the floor / and all your records are scratched / she’s a one-way ticket and you can’t come back” are borderline laughable, but I would argue they’re laughable in a good way: the intention of this song is to have fun, and that’s what the lyrics are. Even if “she drinks Bacardi in the morning ’til it goes to her head”. I’d rather have this than any piffle from Katy Perry any day. The voice of Rob Thomas, as distinctive as it was in the days of Tabitha’s Secret, is pretty much perfect for a rocker – a bit of growl with lots of character, yet…still radio station pleasing.

In the video, the crazy woman being sung about breaks Brian Yale’s bass and pushes Paul Doucette’s drum kit on its side, later setting it on fire. Such things never would have happened in one of their music videos from the late ’90s, which were generally dark, dour, low key affairs. But then again, matchbox20 was a different band from the current Matchbox Twenty. As for ‘North’, their fifth album, they worked with producer Matt Serletic, the same man who saw them through their first four albums. While I don’t expect ‘North’ to give me the same feelings I had upon hearing ‘Push’ on the radio for the first time, the band, as a unit and as individuals, are completely different than who they were when they started. The pain and emotions that Rob Thomas wrote about as a young man have matured into those of grown married men. (Or at least I’m sure they’ve matured enough to realise they needed to write a good pop hook in order to get back into everyone’s graces.) And I sincerely doubt Pookie still answers to that nickname…

Easy to sing along to? Check. Impossible to get out of your head? Check. Monster guitar riff? Check. Poppy as hell? Check. This one ticks off all the important boxes for mainstream success. Matchbox Twenty, all grown up, is worth a listen. Trust me on this one. Especially if you’re like John and never knew about them in the first place.

8/10

‘She’s So Mean’, the first single from Matchbox Twenty’s fifth album ‘North’, is out now. ‘North’ will drop in early September on Atlantic.

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[…] 17 years, Matchbox Twenty have made their name with songs 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 […]

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