Thursday, August 16, 2012

Over A Decade Later, Under The Table And Dreaming Is Still Decent!

The Good: Good lyrics, Decent sound, Good instrumentals
The Bad: Some of the singing is grating/incomprehensible, Liner notes
The Basics: Under The Table And Dreaming rightfully brought the Dave Matthews Band into the forefront of pop culture with strong lyrics and a diverse accompaniment.

Back when I was in high school and classes were winding down for the year, the Dave Matthews Band was charting its first major single on the pop charts, "What Would You Say," which was the first I had heard of them. I recall a classmate being very excited about an upcoming concert with them. I remember this because in the prior eleven and a half years of schooling together, I could not recall a single conversation we had had. Having only heard the one song from the Dave Matthews Band, I suppose I was a bit of a wet blanket and asked, "That's cool, but do they sing anything other than 'What Would You Say?'" By that, I meant "Is there anything else by them, I might know?" My classmate, however, took it literally and sardonically responded, "No, they'll just get up for an hour and a half and sing that over and over again!" She didn't talk to me again. So now, after about twelve years, I'm finally getting around to listening to a full Dave Matthews Band c.d., indeed the very one that includes "What Would You Say."

Of course, between then and now, I've heard other Dave Matthews Band songs, like "Ants Marching" and "Satellite" from Under The Table And Dreaming, "Crash," "Crush" and other songs. I've also become aware of the rabid following the Dave Matthews Band has, comparable to fans of Phish, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd - the legions of a special type of fan whose response to an album critique is "You'd never say that if you'd seen them perform at Spokane!"

So, Under The Table And Dreaming, is solid rock and roll. Dave Matthews, the head of the Dave Matthews Band, has a great musical sense and a message. A lot of my problems lately with musical works I've heard have been in the arena of the lyrics, usually problematic obvious rhymes. I am pleased to say Dave Matthews, who wrote all of the songs on Under The Table And Dreaming (save the instrumental #34, which he co-wrote) does not suffer from that particular malaise.

I write that Matthews has a message and I think the most telling example is in his song "Ants Marching." Capitalism and its droning effect is not the most common topic in popular music. That's more of a folk standard to complain about money and the way it corrupts. Matthews infuses the folk sensibility and ability to widely use metaphor when he sings "He wakes up in the morning / Does his teeth bite to eat he's rolling / Never changes a thing / The week ends, the week begins" ("Ants Marching"). Not only is it an atypical topic, it was a successful song and it rocks, so Matthews is clearly appealing to something that is too long lacking from pop culture.

The album opens with the rousing "The Best of What's Around" that establishes a strong rock sound that defines what the Dave Matthews Band is. Matthews does the primary vocals and his voice is out front and center relaying the story. Matthews sings powerfully ("The Best of What's Around," "What Would You Say"), talks his way into singing soulfully ("Pay For What You Get") and actively competes with the background music ("Ants Marching"). This, in combination with the use of such instruments as the acoustic violin, flute and three types of saxophones gives the Band a more diverse sound than most groups on the radio even now.

The only real drawbacks to Under The Table And Dreaming and (possibly) the Dave Matthews Band come in some of the vocals. There are moments that Dave Matthews does not sing so clearly, so the contrast between him soulfully articulating on "Pay For What You Get" and the jumbled lines near the beginning of "The Best of What's Around" is problematic. Also, the liner notes have the lyrics arranged in an esoteric way, in balls or a page with a circle missing with little distinction between the songs, which is just plain annoying.

"34," the smoky instrumental is track #34 with a large gap most players will simply skip over. It's a nice, soft ending to the album and it works for a group that has cultivated a mature sound utilizing a number of instruments. Under The Table And Dreaming is also a little over an hour long, so it pleases me that it is using the space provided on the medium well.

Who will like Under The Table And Dreaming? Anyone who likes pop or rock music but is sick of artists who either are stuck on the guitar/bass/drums combination or are singing solely about love or breaking up. The Dave Matthews Band offers a generally upbeat, diverse listening experience on Under The Table And Dreaming with songs that are poetic ("Satellite"), poignant ("Ants Marching") or just plain recognizable and fun ("What Would You Say").

It's a solid album and almost enough for me to go to my high school alumni website and let that former classmate of mine know that I get why she was excited about that concert. The best track is "Ants Marching" and "Dancing Nancies" is fairly unmemorable, making it the worst.

For other indie rock groups, check out my reviews of:
Rock Spectacle - Barenaked Ladies
Real Gone - Tom Waits
Play: The B-Sides - Moby


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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