When I discuss music, I am always considered to be a rather knowledgeable figure among my peers. Even though that’s because in general they listen to very little besides The Bled
, it still elates me a little to know I’m just that much better than someone. However, most of the time when I mention a pop album, my credibility immediately gets shot. Whether its cries of no musicianship, shoddy lyrics, or boring songs in general, pop rock and power pop in general are fairly hated genres among High School-age students. There is one band though, that no matter who you are, seems to just have some kind of universal appeal. When I mention that band, instead of strange looks and snide remarks (usually having the creative value equivalent to saying 'fag'), I actually get answers ranging from 'Yeah, they're pretty good' to 'Wow, I actually love them.' That band is none other than Matchbox 20
, the pop/at rock band that basically became synonymous with late 90s and early 00s 'adult contemporary' radio.
However, I was not one for such music when I was twelve. At that time, I was listening to Eminem
, and Styx
almost exclusively. Despite the fact my tastes were extremely ‘mainstream’ at the time, I was decidedly anti-radio music, and as such had remembered that Matchbox 20 was that band VH1 played all the time. Thus, when my mother initially started playing this album on the way to school every morning, I was furious. There’s nothing interesting about this
, I thought, It’s just that guy singing with a really bad backing band
. However, for at least two weeks, I had coincidentally missed out on hearing Bent
every single morning. When I finally listened to it in full, I was in a daze; this music was just so emotional
. It didn’t rely on screams or trippy vocals, loud guitars or menacing beats, it just was
. Ever since that day, I loved Matchbox 20, and above all else, had a peculiar attraction for Mad Season
While yes, Matchbox 20
(or, as they like to be called now, matchbox twenty) is technically an entire band, the songwriting truly begins and ends with Rob Thomas
. On Yourself Or Someone Like You
, Thomas was a decidedly dark and slightly brooding fellow, with most songs being biting remarks about love and relationships. While he is still very much a jaded figure, he also shows some signs of hope (his marriage may have had a hand in that) that help to balance out the album quite well. Lines like 'While you were sleeping, I was listening to the radio, And wondering what you're dreaming when, It came to mind that I didn't care'
off of Rest Stop
are the reason that even when Thomas gets sentimental and even a little cliché about relationships and break ups, he retains a sense of bite that is generally missing in the songwriters of our day (or at least out of those that can score a number 1 single).
Thomas may be the driving force behind the 'madness', it's not as if the rest of the band is sitting idly by. Individually, they all shine, and together, they create a sublime musical experience. Possibly the biggest surprise is how well Brian Yale does on bass; while traditionally pop has relied on strong bass lines to catch the listeners ear, Yale opts to deliver some flowing and occasional funky bass lines (highlighted by the previously mentioned Rest Stop
), and while he gives up some of the ‘oomph’ or technicality you hear many other bassists today try to accomplish, it gives the album a wonderful flow that many more ‘technical’ acts could take a page from. Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor (go ahead, get your 'lol's' out now) make a very effective lead/rhythm guitar tandem, with Cook lending some great lead lines (Last Beautiful Girl
is a fine example) while Gaynor merely produces some of the best pop chord progressions this side of Brown Eyed Girl
. Easily the most neglected instrument in matchbox twenty is drums, and while Paul Doucette is a pretty good 'keeper of the time', he doesn't ever make his place known. If this were Protest the Hero
, that could be a problem, but Doucette keeps the beat of everything quite well and never tries to overwhelm the listener, a pitfall that many other artists tend to fall into.
But wait, this is a pop rock band, is the musicianship really all that important? True, while individually they may be good and all, you can't exactly say they're diamonds in the ruff, even in the realms of pop. What they can do well, however, is combine their talents and create some incredible music. Along with Thomas, the band creates extraordinarily enthralling pieces, that range from lighthearted romps about sex, melancholy songs about personal emptiness, and to epic ballads of longing and lost love. In fact, it's quite easy to split the album between the three general guidelines. It’s also important to note the progression they made from their first album, Yourself Or Someone Like You
; while that album focused on rockin' numbers with pop sensibilities, the reverse is true of Mad Season
, with many of Thomas's pop wonts being counteracted by his still rockin' band mates, and makes the dynamic of matchbox twenty an interesting one to pay attention too.
While all that is fine and good, there is obviously one song here that eclipses the rest. Bent
, the song that single-handedly made me change my views on the ‘mainstream’, is all at once a fast paced hard rock song, a soft ballad, and one hell of an emotionally powerful power pop song. It highlights nearly everything that matchbox twenty does well, with Thomas giving a oddly dark and uplifting vocal performance, while the band creates a moody and equally dark musical environment, with Cook's and Gaynor's interplaying guitars giving off both a depressing and at once hopeful vibe. It's nearly the perfect summation of what matchbox twenty does for most of Mad Season
, and the song is plain and simple moving.
In fact, I can't honestly say there is a single weak moment on this album. There are times on the album where you'll hear an orchestra, and wonder why they don't just use it for the entire album; the compositions they make with one are absolutely epic, with the arrangements perfectly under toning the sullen and grim performances of the band. Then you'll listen to a track such as Crutch
, where Thomas's fast paced singing matches with a constantly starting and stopping instrumental performance to create a world-weary rocker with a face-melting guitar solo thrown in, just to make sure you piss your pants. Of course, they'll then throw you a curveball in something like Leave
, a slow building and fittingly epic love song. It’s a testament to the creative force of the band that nothing on this album sounds alike, even after 100+ listens, and also that this album itself is a whirlwind of what can only be fittingly described as ‘greatness.’
The final and most important key to this album has been hinted at (in varying degrees) throughout this review, and that key element is the emotion that nearly every song just exudes. Thomas has a voice for the ages, one that is far from inaccessible, yet unique and powerful. As evidenced both by this and his later works, Thomas can pull off an incredible variety of singing styles, he can rock out on Stop
and then croon on Bed of Lies
, all the while leaving room to have a fun romp through a pure, unabashed song about some good 'ol lovin'. His voice just seems to carry a tone not present in many singers of the day, and it’s apparent in nearly every song. With the band also supplying that at times chaotic and fervent bluesy feel, such as on Black and White People
, and then the previously mentioned epic builds for special occasions (such as the flawless closer of the album, You Wont Be Mine
), there is not one moment on this album that feels 'lifeless' or 'dead,' and far from ever feeling ambient, they're always driving everything that is occurring, rarely letting you in for a breather.
is the magnum opus of one of our times most talented singer-songwriter and rock act, and while it would be an absolute delight to see them ever overtake this album, to do so would be nigh impossible. What matchbox twenty have done here is make an album completely devoid of filler, and then also crafting such meticulate pieces that you never want
it to stop. While it’s fairly obvious that my love for matchbox twenty and everything they do may skew my vision slightly, all that originated from this little album right here. While it would be a rare occurrence for one to never have heard Bent
or any number of the hit singles matchbox twenty has produced, Mad Season
would be the perfect place to start your listening. There’s even yet something that can’t be put to words about this album, it could be that I’m just a mediocre writer, but I believe that it’s more that this album touched me on a deeper level than nearly anything else I’ve ever heard has. I can’t think of any more of a fitting end to this review than to say this: Mad Season
is quite possibly the album that will be remembered from the beginning of this century, and if that’s so, I cannot think of a more fitting album to receive that honor than this.
Take your pick, it’s all orgasmic.