Release Date: Sep 4, 2012
Record label: Atlantic
Torn hearts, funk-fed beats and eloquent balladry – the first Matchbox Twenty album in more than a decade is a plush showcase for Rob Thomas' smooth-as-ever singing. On "She's So Mean," a droll look at addiction and a master class in snappiness, he gets sucked in by a Bacardi-guzzling, record-scratching, crazy-making girl; on "The Way," romance ends, rich harmonies ricochet, guitars go astral and Thomas' composure cracks; on "How Long," a guy yearns for the next level of "carrying on," as gawky verses progress to pop poise. Every song here goes for immediate payoff – as Thomas broadcasts on "Radio," they have been built for lifetimes.
Matchbox 20 never quite broke up. Rather, they simply faded away. One day, they were ubiquitous, the next, they just weren't there and they stayed hidden for the better part of a decade, cobbling together a hits album and accompanying tour in 2007 but taking their time crafting their fourth album.
What on earth are we to do with a Matchbox Twenty album in 2012? What is there, really, to be said about this band that hasn’t been said before? Has anyone ever actually said anything about Matchbox Twenty (you know, these guys have done a solid job of being Third Eye Blind with a better shelf life!)? Are there Matchbox Twenty thinkpieces floating across the internet that I’ve missed? It’s not out of malice that I say these things. I remember taking four hour rides to visit family in Maryland. This was in a pre-iPod era, so skipping around stations and going through different cities, there was a good chance you would hear whatever song Rob Thomas and co.
After teasing anticipating fans with the mediocrity of lead-off single “She’s So Mean” (which confirmed trouble was afoot with the group’s latest effort), Matchbox Twenty’s first proper full-length since 2002, North, has finally landed. After waiting a decade to follow up the radio friendly More Than You Think You Are, we find ourselves wondering if this really is the best Rob Thomas and crew have to offer following a 10-year hiatus? Regrettably, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. North is teeming with sub-par radio fodder (the Maroon 5 sound-alike “Put Your Hands Up”) and uninspired tunes full of lyrical clichés (“Sleeping At The Wheel” and “Radio”).
The first strains of opener “Parade”, on Matchbox Twenty’s new release North, call to mind the best moments of 1996’s Yourself or Someone Like You: acoustic guitars behind Rob Thomas’s always-heartbroken voice, which stretches out over the most poignant moments. Your high school soul will twinge with recognition. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities between North and Matchbox Twenty’s apex mostly end.
In a landscape dotted with exhibitionist pop star performance artists, flashy and psychedelic rappers, tremulous indie folk hipsters, and more wholesome crossover country than ever, there’s something oddly refreshing about the return of Matchbox Twenty. The band that defined the middle of the road in the late ’90s and early ’00s has been out of the game for more than five years. Its formula remains pretty much the same on “North,” the band’s fourth full-length studio album and the first with all new material in a decade.