Dave Matthews is one of rock's most underrated Pretty Complex Dudes – as horny as Lil Wayne, as troubled as Thom Yorke, able to growl "war is the most vulgar madness" like the American Sting he's always sort of been. He's got a beige-Baja-shirt rep and a black-turtleneck soul. The first DMB record in more than three years (and the first in over a decade produced by Steve Lillywhite, who helmed their mid-Nineties albums) serves up the Matthews magic in all its musically tight, emotionally bumfuzzled splendor: from the sex-as-food funk-pop romp "Belly Belly Nice," to the relationship SOS "The Riff," where Matthews sings, "I don't know the man living in my head/If I don't know the woman sleeping in my bed," to op-eds against political apathy like the fragilely beautiful "Mercy.
Getting back to the basics after a semi-extended break, Dave Matthews Band reunites with producer Steve Lillywhite -- the man who helmed their big major-label hits of the '90s -- for Away from the World, 2012's long-gestating sequel to 2009's Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. This marks the first time Lillywhite has worked with DMB since 1998's Before These Crowded Streets, and there's no denying he's the best producer for the band, articulating their elasticity with clarity and reigning in their excesses. Which isn't to say Away from the World is streamlined, as it hardly is.
The musicians of Dave Matthews Band have always been exuded talent, but somewhere along the line, the band became a punchline for snarky pundits everywhere. After 20-plus years spent producing seven studio albums, countless live discs, and touring extensively, how did DMB become a band scorned, the love of which is readily attributed to frat boys and hippies? In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that DMB was my favorite band in high school. My heart was stolen by 1996’s Crash, and I’ve never fully recovered.