Review Summary: The kings of late 90's/early 21st century pop rock have returned with not their best work, however a quality work filled with band maturation, and hooks all alike.
Andy Warhol once said “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” This could be the motto for the musical endeavors of Rob Thomas beyond Matchbox Twenty. North is the groups first studio album in 10 years. In these 10 years lead singer Rob Thomas has released two solo pop albums that have been an acquired taste at best. In this time it seems he has realized that he either is nothing without the group in his musical maturation, or he is nothing without the mass revenue the band somehow continues to bring in. Nonetheless, North is constructed to be the continuation of their past sound with 2010's production and new influences. And it deserves a place above the Matchbox Twenty fireplace with the three other platinum records.
The album opens up with the beautifully somber "Parade" which is the strongest track on the album. At times this track sounds like the fondest moments from their first two albums Yourself and Someone Like you and Mad Season. The band writes this song knowingly that fans and old listeners alike need a reason to listen to the band nearly a decade later. When Rob Thomas sings "When there's so much more that you can see if you just stick around." You feel like Rob and company are trying to write a love letter to their fans, making the ultimate case that "we're back." The instrumentation hasn't depreciated in these ten long years as well with Kyle Cook's most exhilarating and impassioned guitar solo to date. The band delves into past sounds with the sleeper hit of 2012 "She's So Mean." The song in sound and in essence pays tribute to the last album the band released in 2002, the ear magnet More Than You Think You Are. The song is catchy, and is ear candy. "Overjoyed" is a ballad similar to earlier works a la Back 2 Good, and Girl Like That.
When the band isn't recreating new works with a new found focus, Rob and company are visiting different styles that the band has never visited before. Mostly it works well, like the 1920's swing influenced "Radio" which is a song loaded with brass and a accompanying rhythmic that makes you want to move. The disco pop flavored "Our Song" is the most catchy track on the album with a simple 3/4 time signature, it has the most sharp hook on the album with a melody that will be stuck in your head for days. "The Way" is the only song on the album written by anyone but Rob Thomas. With Kyle Cook and Paul Doucette (Drummer) lead the song writing brigade on this one. All in all it is one of the most delightful tracks on the album. The song features a prominent country chorus sounding like it came from the Grand Ole Opry itself. It is clearly a delight. And on the progressive rock closing ballad "Sleeping At The Wheel" that doesn't put you to sleep in the least with an obvious pull from influences from what rock has become. However on the track "How Long" the band nearly cements the direction in which they are heading, an easy pop rock jam filled with the occasional synth line. While it isn't the best song, it's clear that the most time and effort was placed into this.
There is a few missteps however, and these tracks can be recognized as experimental filler and a sad attempt at stealing Maroon 5 fans. "Like Sugar" is a beat with a deep trance rhythm experience. And with lyrics like "I just want to make you go away, but you taste like sugar" it is disposable and clearly thought of while biting into a cookie. And the disco pop dud "Put Your Hands Up" is the band's sad attempt to get back on the radio with the eased song writing (singing ohhh whoaaaa, singing ohhh whoaaa) and increased overdone production similar to Maroon 5's "Moves like Jagger." However the results are catchy all the same and will attract the new musically oblivious 8th Grader.
The kings of late 90's/early 21st century pop rock have returned with not their best work, however a quality work filled with band maturation, and hooks all alike. The band continues past successes with a reliance on past formulas and covers new ground on many tracks. The album is a delight, for older and newer fans alike.