Friday, February 3, 2012

More Than I Thought It Could Be, More Than You Think You Are By Matchbox Twenty Still Underwhelms.

The Good: Theme, Many instrumentals, Flow of one song to another, Most lyrics
The Bad: Some terrible rhymes, A few instrumentals are tired or dull
The Basics: With their third album, Matchbox Twenty stumbles into a rut with their distinctive sounds and lyrics failing to impress as much as their prior works.

Usually, when a musical group gets into my pantheon of "safe buys" (i.e. people whose music I will buy on faith that it will be wonderful, of which only five musical artists qualify), I will buy their new albums when they first come out. For one reason or another - I honestly cannot recall now - I did not purchase More Than You Think You Are when it first came out. It might have been because I heard "Disease" on the radio and did not like it. Maybe I was broke at the time. I don't remember.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy "Unwell" (until they overplayed it to death on the radio) and "Bright Lights" from the album when they were played as singles on the radio and I recently purchased More Than You Think You Are. I am unsure of what my apprehension toward the album was; it was the first new album Matchbox Twenty had put out since their near-perfect Mad Season By Matchbox Twenty (reviewed here!) and also the first new album since I met the band in person at a concert.

Maybe I was just concerned that the group could not live up to my expectations or my hopes following on the heels of Mad Season By Matchbox Twenty. Maybe it was just how much I did not like the radio single "Disease." After my first listen to More Than You Think You Are, my apprehension and reservations melted away. And that's not just me saying "It's not as bad as I thought it might be."

It was a tough call at first, though. More Than You Think You Are opens with one of the weakest Matchbox Twenty songs of all time. "Feel" has middle-of-the-road lyrics that are almost shouted out by lead singer Rob Thomas over one of the least-organized musical arrangements I have ever heard. It's a cacophony. There's little order or art to the opening song and it left my ears aching for something better. And then came "Disease."

For those who have not heard the song "Disease," it is a collaboration between Rob Thomas and Mick Jagger. It doesn't sound quite like a Matchbox Twenty song lyrically and it puts forth some clumsy rhymes that feel misappropriated. There's a rhyme of "magic" and "tragic" that hasn't been done since "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and in the older song, it sounded better.

That said, the album gets better both lyrically and musically after the first two tracks. Part of that is that they sound more like what one expects when listening to Matchbox Twenty, strong, well-written lyrics supported by guitars, bass, and drums with a piano thrown in occasionally. That is not to say that the band does not show any growth on this album. Indeed, the gospel choir on "Downfall" would be enough to illustrate that the band is willing to try new things. It is, however, that the two opening tracks are such a divergence (and the first track is so poor musically) that they do not sound pleasantly like Matchbox Twenty or products of the band at all.

However, the rest of the album provides great lyrics and music and it is more than worth the price of the album. Rob Thomas' vocals are great, with him illustrating wonderful range. Again "Downfall" is a track where he plays through with his voice in ways that he has not before. And his lyrics are at their usual stunning best. In fact, his song "Hand Me Down," which seems to have many lines about how the object of the protagonists attentions gets beat around and dragged through all sorts of circumstances, has a bridge wherein the protagonist offers refuge, making the song a more ambiguous piece than many of Matchbox Twenty's usual depressing fare. I like that.

"Soul," "Unwell," and "Bright Lights" sound very traditionally like Matchbox Twenty, with clear rock and roll sounds and lyrics that are sharp and interesting and generally sad. Matchbox Twenty is not known for happy, smiling light pop. No, this is a group to listen to when you're happy to be mired in your depressions. And it works splendidly for that. More Than You Think You Are is a great example of their continuing effort and growth.

It just does not manage to get to the points that their second album does.

One of the nice things about More Than You Think You Are is the inclusion (again) of songs written by other members of the band, not just Rob Thomas. Indeed, one of the albums most interesting and distinctive songs is "Could I Be You" which was written by drummer Paul Doucette. It illustrates perfectly that Rob Thomas does not have a monopoly on angst within the group and that the band truly does work best as a unit to create their distinctive sound.

All in all, a good album well above the common stuff heard on the radio, despite the first two tracks. Best tracks are "Unwell" and the lyrically complicated "Hand Me Down." The weak track is "Feel."

For other Matchbox Twenty albums and reviews of works by similar artists, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Yourself Or Someone Like You
Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell - Meat Loaf
Foiled - Blue October


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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