Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Guess They Didn’t Need Adam . . . North Is Entirely Respectable Matchbox Twenty!

The Good: Mostly wonderful lyrics, Good tunes, Decent vocals
The Bad: SHORT! Some of the lyrics are painfully cliche
The Basics: North reassures Matchbox Twenty fans that the band still has it, even after Adam Gaynor left the group!

When a band is reconfigured, it can spell the demise of that group, especially if it was a particularly popular band in its original iteration. The group Matchbox Twenty appeared, by sales, to be a band that peaked with its first album and descended from there (personally, I assert that Mad Season By Matchbox Twenty is superior to the band’s debut), so when Adam Gaynor left the group in 2005, it could have signaled the final nail in the coffin for the popular group. However, Matchbox Twenty managed to pull it off; reforming without Gaynor, they created and released North and the sound and feel of the album is pure Matchbox Twenty.

In fact, the quality of North makes one wonder just why Rob Thomas felt he had to foster a solo career; his stuff and Matchbox Twenty’s enduring style are virtually the same, so it seemed like he could have just kept the band together and released his songs as Matchbox Twenty songs. After all, the band started with Rob Thomas writing all of the songs, so it wouldn’t have really traumatized the band for him to keep doing that. Regardless, North is a return to form for Matchbox Twenty, though – like its prior albums – Thomas was not solely responsible for writing the lyrics and music for the band.

With a dozen songs, clocking out at 42:24, perhaps the greatest defect for North is that it is short. The entire album is written by the men of Matchbox Twenty (Rob Thomas, Kyle Cook and Paul Doucette, at least!) and the quartet is responsible for all of the primary instrumentation on North. As one might expect from a Matchbox Twenty album, Rob Thomas provides all of the lead vocals, save on “The Way,” where Kyle Cook is given the chance to vocally shine. The only major creative aspect that Matchbox Twenty is not directly responsible for is the album’s production, but given how Matt Serletic produced the three prior albums (but not the compilation album), it seems likely that the men of Matchbox Twenty were involved enough to get the sound they intended represented on the album.

North is one of Matchbox Twenty’s more upbeat albums, characterized by the radio-played singles “She’s So Mean” and the very typical-sounding ballad “Overjoyed,” both of which have Rob Thomas on leading vocals. On North, Matchbox Twenty sounds exactly like what it is; a guitar/bass/drum rock and roll band. The band rocks along the spectrum from the more forceful “She’s So Mean” to the poppy on “Radio.” The album is a good balance of up-tempo rock tunes and slower, more ballad-like tracks like “Overjoyed” and “I Will.”

Vocally, Rob Thomas sounds as good as he ever has, dominating the middle vocal registers and singing articulately enough that all of the lines may be clearly heard and understood. Kyle Cook’s foray to the lead vocals sounds good, though his voice is not severely differentiated from Thomas on the song to make one think they are hearing anything but a Matchbox Twenty song.

Lyrically, North is actually one of Matchbox Twenty’s more upbeat albums. Instead of being dominated by depressing songs, North includes songs that are about partying (“Put Your Hands Up”) and more traditional love songs (“Our Song”). This is a nice thematic departure from the band’s usual songs about tortured, tumultuous relationships! That is not to say that there aren’t any great, sad songs on North; far from it! The band still rocks sadly with lines like “We had love / Always thought it would be enough / Oh, but then it goes away / But I don't really wanna give up / It feels like hell to let you walk / Bet it all down but I couldn't afford it / This is the way you want it to be” (“The Way”).

While North has some good lines, it is also plagued by a few particularly bad conceits that the band had not usually fallen into. In addition to songs that are far more repetitive than their earlier works, Matchbox Twenty’s ability to turn a phrase flounders on some of the songs. Most notable of these is “,” which is populated by clichés. No matter how many times I hear the group sing “I'm walking behind you / Calling the way you / Give away all your secrets / You're taking the high road / And picking your battles / Just like the day I found you” (“Like Sugar”), it is hard not to wince at the overexposed clichés.

That said, Thomas, Cook and Douchette manage to pack some of the songs on North with beautiful imagery, not just poetic expressions of emotions. On “English Town,” the group paints a clear image with their words: “Come inside / The air I breathe / While the band still plays / It's the end of the coldest week / Come down into the sea / Cause everybody wants to get away sometimes / And everybody needs mistakes / When the sun breaks / Over the edge of an English town / It pulls me away / From a bad dream / I don't know why / But I know I'm not / Ever going back.”

Ultimately, North is a decent return to the pop-rock stage for a band who has been missed!

The best song is “The Way,” the low point is the repetitive “Like Sugar.”

For other works by Matchbox Twenty, please be sure to check out:
Yourself Or Someone Like You
Mad Season By Matchbox Twenty
More Than You Think You Are
Exile On Mainstream


For other music reviews, please check out my Album Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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