Review Summary: Exile on Mainstream is a damn good listen for anyone looking to get into Matchbox, and a worthy buy for any longtime fan as well, be it for the new songs, or just for nostalgia’s sake - the early 90s never really went away, and thank god for that.
It’s not hard to imagine. A Café somewhere on a bright day in a bustling street, the four members of Matchbox Twenty sat down to take a look back at their career as one of the biggest pop acts of the last decade and just went – You know what? We’ve been sitting around for five years since our last album, while Robby boy here has been off winning Grammys with Santana and writing his own ridiculously popular stuff for his own album. We miss this s'hit man, it’s been a f'uckin' blast – let’s do more. So they did. And here, on Exile On Mainstream
, the boys pull off perhaps the most energetic songs they’ve every written, maybe as a release for the five years they spent pent up waiting around doing nothing. Gone are the majestic, orchestra backed but rockin’ pieces that made Mad Season
so damn good, instead drawing upon the better parts of 2002’s More Than You Think You Are
, with six new stone solid tracks and a collection of ten singles from the band’s back catalog. It’s like they went into the studio to just have fun, to take a brush with the grandeur of their past, and feel the rush of it all again and treating their fans to a mix of the old and new. It’s an unconventional formula for an album, but dammit, it works.
The album’s very opener and lead single, How Far We’ve Come
paints the newfound energy and verve of the band in as broad strokes as they could have possibly done, setting the pace with it’s driving, frantic beat, catchy to the point of stupidity and as anthemic as the best songs that Queen have ever put out. Already, the lyrics here are in keeping with the retrospective nature of the album with Rob’s fantastic all American drawl singing: ‘But I believe the world is burning to the ground/ Oh well I guess we're Gonna find out / let's see how far we've come’ It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that if you don’t come away form this song with those lines ringing in your head while making involuntary movements with your feet, you just aren’t human. Most of the new songs here too, keep within the same fun loving, up beat template of How Far We’ve Come
, with Ill Believe You
When opening to sound of childlike tinkly bells and being led by some of the funkiest bass heard on radio since Aguilera’s Candyman, while All your Reasons
is characterized by the band shouting ba-da-da-bab-ba over another catchy riff and head-bobing beats. Fun fun fun. Included of course, obligatory Matchbox Twenty slow songs, with These Hard Times
and Can’t Let You Go
leading the way in that arena.
Sure, this stuff isn’t in keeping with the current club-beats that are being pumped out by today’s pop scene, but who cares? It's Matchbox Twenty, and god does it feel good to just have some straight up radio rock that wasn’t done by aging rockstars riding the waves of glory past, singing with marbles in their mouths and putting out mediocre tunes for fans who quite frankly wouldn't know good music if it kicked them in the balls. Grohl dearest, I’m looking at you. While Matchbox's sound remains as down to earth as ever, the obvious differences in sound here are probably explained by the fact that Exile
was no longer just a product of Rob’s own head, but rather, for the first time, a collective song writing process, as well as some lineup changes, this time without the presence of rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor, replaced on this album by drummer Paul Doucette.
The rest of the album works its way though the band's past singles, starting at with Long Day
off 1999’s Yourself or Someone Like You
and though to the more popular hits like Push
, Mad Season
and Bright Lights
. It’s a fantastic mix of songs, most of which the casual listener would undoubtedly recognize and hopefully enjoy, while fans might appreciate having a snapshot of the band’s progression though time with a whole bunch of new songs thrown in. On the other hand of course, like every ‘hits’ album, Exile
sorely lacks some other great tracks from the band’s discography, such as Rest Stop
or Hand Me Down
, essentials in any Matchbox Twenty collection. Also, while the tracks here a wonderful listening material, nothing here is earth shattering, or even startlingly new for the Matchbox boys. It’s the same basic, moving, emotional but oh-so rockin’ sound that’s characterized the band though their career, but wrapped up in a new, shiny and damn fine looking package. All that aside, Exile on Mainstream
is a hellava good listen for anyone looking to get into Matchbox, and a worthy buy for any longtime fan as well, be it for the new songs, or just for nostalgia’s sake - the early 90s never really went away, and thank god for that. Oh, and while it’s a bit of a grope in the dark here, if anything, Rob and Co. should be congratulated for finally having a album name which isn’t as forgettable as rock on a sidewalk. Good job guys.