Growing up, my experience with Matchbox Twenty was casual at best. I remember hearing radio staples such as "Real World", "Bent", and "Unwell" over the years, but I never really got caught up with the rest of their music at the time. Fast forward to a few year ago, a friend and I were instant messaging, trying to one up each other with nostalgic music videos, only to stumble upon "If You're Gone" once again. A strange addiction to the song formed, and, unknown to me at the time, I would soon own all three albums and play them incessantly on the car ride to and from work. I realized that I didn't just like this music because it reminded me of youthful summers,
but because I also found merit in music and connection with the lyrics. Songs of heartache, self-degradation, and hope followed the miss-steps of my own life and kept me going on.
I knew that I would be buying "North" when it was released earlier this week. I owned all the albums released thus far, minus "Exile From Mainstream", which was an EP with a Greatest Hits album tagged on. I debated about pre-ordering it, but I knew that if I did that, I wouldn't get it on release date - so what was the point of pre-ordering it? So, on Sept. 4th, I went to Target (which claims two exclusive bonus songs - different from iTunes' two bonus tracks) and bought it, like someone from the Stone Age.
"North" is the band's first album in ten years, following up "More Than You Think You Are". During that time, the group has taken several hiatuses, with Rob Thomas releasing two solo albums, the others exploring a variety of musical projects, and guitarist Adam Gaynor leaving the band. As a result of the latter, Paul Doucette stepped up to fill rhythm guitar duties and the group became a four-piece. I was a bit skeptical of this when I found out, as I always am with line-up changes. Usually they result in something lacking from the overall sound, and as I liked Matchbox Twenty's sound, I was concerned to say the least!
Target) "I Don't Wanna Be Loved", which have a 70s discotheque funkiness, and "Radio", which has sections that sound like a 1950s dance tune. Like I said, quite diverse! In a way, it reminds me a lot of Thomas' first solo
album, "Something To Be", though the lead vocals by guitarist Kyle Cook on "The Way" remind me otherwise.
Lyrically, the group continue it's tradition of focusing on the forming and destruction of relationships ("She's So Mean"), personal growth and discovery ("English Town"), and take the torch of "How Far We've Come", from their
compilation album, with songs of warning and hopefulness. The opener, "Parade", and closer, "Sleeping At The Wheel" strike at this last point, and are really standout tracks for me. The former warns us not to give up, because we could see ourselves reach outstanding heights if we just push on, and we could live our lives consumed by "What If?"s and regret if we don't try. The latter sings that we're not paying attention to the signposts of destruction that we're passing, but brings a ray of light in our ability to change our direction before it's too late.
The true test of this, and every other album the band has released, has always been much simpler than whether it falls within a certain genre, or if I connect with the subject matter. Do those help? Sure! But what I really look for is this: "Does it make me want to sing along?" The answer is a resounding "YES!" Every song on this album tugs at my vocal cords and says, "Come on, let's hear a little out of you." When you get to the next song and you're still singing the chorus from the last one, you know you've got a winner.