How do you accurately judge the quality of an album, when all the records previously released by that band had such a big impact on you? Especially when it's so new! Taking in music and really appreciating it is kind of like cooking - you can't just turn the temperature up twice as high and expect it to cook in half the time. The same with music, you can't listen to an album just once with the volume on eleven and truly appreciate it. Rather, you're better off finding that sweet spot on the dial and letting the soundwaves caress you, taking in the nuances as they leap out at you. You, and the record, deserve that quality bonding time.
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!
So then, what about it? Does "North" hold up to a decade of expectations and anticipation? That's not a fair question, and anyone expecting a decade's worth of musical tension release is bound to disappoint themselves. That being said, the new album delivers a diversity of sounds, each which possess a catchiness bound to draw a person from here, another from there. It stays away from a distinctly rock, guitar-driven sound, that was very indicative of their last full-length, so you won't find any tracks as heavy as "Feel" or "Cold", and don't play it expecting another "Real World". Replacing these are songs like "Put Your Hands Up" and (if you got it from
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.
"When the music's over, but the song's still in your head." ~ Parade