Review Summary: This is the most poorly constructed set of songs in Dave Matthews Band's career. From beginning to end, the album lacks the inspiration and creativity that has earned Dave Matthews Band their rabid fan base.
If Dave Matthews Band is known for anything, it is for their musicianship and creativity. This is why DMB fans often prefer their live albums to their studio cuts. It's not that their studio albums are bad - Before These Crowded Streets was an incredibly affecting and deep set of songs, but something magical comes out of DMB during their live performances. The spontaneity and energy of their live performance nearly always eclipses the studio versions of their songs.
While most DMB albums capture, at least in part, this magical energy, Stand Up just sort of sits there. For those DMB fans who feel they went downhill after Before These Crowded Streets, this is an album to avoid. Stand Up is even more glossy and smooth sounding than Everyday with none of the power and fluid construction of songs like "When the World Ends" and that album's title track. The album does have its memorable tunes such as "Dreamgirl", "American Baby", "Louisiana Bayou", and "Steady as we Go", but they are missing the playfulness, invention, and lyrical sophistication that marked DMB's pre-Everyday albums.
DMB fans are some of the most dogmatic fans in modern music as evidenced by the reaction to Everyday. The very hint of the electric guitar on "I Did It" sent many fans howling. I agree that Everyday abandoned much of that acoustic beat-driven sound that attracted so many fans, but if you didn't compare it to past efforts, it was still a decently good album. As you're listening through this album for the first time, you can tell that DMB were trying for something different. This time, however, it just comes off as a bad album - with or without comparisons to past works.
Several tracks on this album have potential, but end up going nowhere. "You Might Die Trying" is one example. It starts with an ear-catching guitar line and vocal melody, but slowly devolves into an uninspiring, flat song with cookie cutter lyrics: "If you give, you begin to live..." The instrumental solos in this song and throughout the album feel forced and disconnected from the core of the tracks - almost like they were added on to please their fans.
One highlight of the album is the piano-driven buildup to the single "American Baby". This brief moment of inspiration, however, serves only to make the tracks surrounding it sound even more mediocre. That being said, "American Baby" is a well-constructed pop song. The crunch of electric guitars in the chorus and the tight, rising melody pull the song forward to a powerful bridge. Unfortunately, even Carter Beauford's fantastic drumming can't save the pointless series of horn and violin solos at the end. This squandered potential leaves a bitter taste in the mouth as does the rest of the album.
Overall, this is an album written by remarkably talented, but thoroughly uninspired individuals. If DMB can recapture some of the songwriting magic that came through in tracks like "#41", "Gray Street", "Crash Into Me", and "Don't Drink the Water", while honing some of the electronic-focused sonic textures they've been developing since Everyday, perhaps their next album will rise above the crushed expectations of many of their fans. Then again, maybe they'll just put out another tired, half-baked, over-produced collection of tracks and call it an album. I wouldn't hold your breath.