Album Review: North – Matchbox Twenty

I’ve waited a long time for this one… It came out on the last day of August.

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Released:
August 2012
Label:
Atlantic
Genre: Rock
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Finally...

Their first album cover showing their whole faces

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TRACK LISTING

1. Parade
2. She’s So Mean
3. Overjoyed
4. Put Your Hands Up
5. Our Song
6. I Will
7. English Town
8. How Long
9. Radio
10. The Way
11. Like Sugar
12. Sleeping at the Wheel
13. I Believe in Everything (Deluxe edition only)
14. Straight For This Life (Deluxe edition only)
15. Waiting on a Train (Deluxe edition only)

A decade. That’s how long it has been since my one-time favourite band last released a full album. That album, 2002’s More Than You Think You Are, happens to rank firmly amongst my all-time top five. The band’s two prior works, released during the height of their popularity, certainly aren’t too shabby either. 2007’s singles compilation Exile on Mainstream packed six new tracks, and lead singer Rob Thomas has released two solo albums in the last ten years, but a full band release is certainly something of an event to Matchbox Twenty fans like myself.

The thing is, a lot changes in ten years. The pop and rock music landscapes are very different now from what they were all that time ago, when great tracks like Disease, Unwell and Bright Lights were able to get extended airplay on mainstream radio stations. So in 2012 Matchbox Twenty face the same question all other ageing bands have to eventually confront: how to stay true to what made them who they are while mixing things up enough to keep them “relevant”. With one glaring exception, they have achieved a more than admirable balance that positions North as a very worthy addition to Matchbox Twenty’s discography.

The album’s first track, Parade, is a reminder of just how awesome it is to have the band back making music. Thomas’ songwriting skills shine right through on a bed of poignant guitar that builds to a classic Matchbox Twenty chorus. The lyrics hit that sweet spot of being relevant to just about anyone and this phenomenon continues throughout the album. Lead single She’s So Mean has all the ingredients of an addictive pop song, with a particularly infectious drumline that was to be expected with Paul Doucette returning to percussion duties after his rhythm guitar phase. Overjoyed is a ballad exuding such raw sincerity that it is a highlight from the first listen.

I don’t really want to talk about Put Your Hands Up. The misguided attempt at a party anthem is so ill-fitting to both the band’s style and Thomas’ unique voice that I struggle to think of why it was put on the album. I skip it almost every listen. Our Song fares better on the up-tempo side of things, thanks to another effective drum pattern and a much simpler hook. I Will brings the pace down again to something resembling Thomas’ brilliant solo song Getting Late, though the message is a little less universal.

English Town is the resident Doucette-penned track of the album and it’s obvious from the first bar of ethereal piano. The track would fit right into the talented musician’s solo album Milk The Bee (released under the moniker of The Break and Repair Method) which is a very, very good thing. The deliberately ambiguous lyrics of How Long are a nice lead-up to the excellent Radio, a 1950s brass-heavy tune with one hell of a cool chorus.

The real surprise of the album is how well The Way works. Written and sung by lead guitarist Kyle Cook with backing from Doucette on the chorus, it is a sucker punch of a song that makes you wonder why the powerful vocalist hasn’t had more time in the spotlight in the past. Its perspective on a difficult relationship is delivered with real drive as a result. Regular service resumes on Like Sugar, which isn’t especially deep but it is catchy and as a result I feel like I enjoy it a little more than I should. But hey, that’s the beauty of music. The regular album’s finisher is Sleeping at the Wheel, which is frankly incredible. The perfect bookend companion to Parade, it is wistful Thomas at his best.

It’s always hard to review “deluxe” sections of albums, because it isn’t always obvious as to how much they should be said to affect the whole product. Nevertheless, two out of three of the bonus tracks really should have been on the main album. I Believe in Everything has a persistent mid-tempo rhythm and a solid 70’s style guitar hook that make it memorable, which cannot be said of the decidedly unpolished, demo-esque Straight For This Life. Waiting on a Train is an appropriately fast and fun song about inactivity that, if included in the main album, may have helped its slightly ballad-heavy structure a little.

It’s great to be able to say that Matchbox Twenty do still have the ability to weave a bit of magic after all these years. I doubt North will achieve anything like the success of the band’s previous efforts in today’s popular music climate, but it is nonetheless an album I would recommend to any lapsed fan. Lovely.

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THE VERDICT

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Strongest Tracks:
Parade, Overjoyed, English Town, Radio, The Way, Sleeping at the Wheel
Weakest Tracks:
Put Your Hands Up, Straight For This Life
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4.5 VsI N C R E D I B L E

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Trish on September 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Solid review but let’s call a spade a spade. This is by far the weakest album. I agree there are some great tunes on the album but it sounds much more like a Rob Thomas Album than a Matchbox album and that is not a good thing. I am sure it will grow on me but there is something missing – and that something is the ‘edge’ – edgy songs that draw out the best of Thomas’ emotional vocals. I think his vocals are solid on this album but a little lacklustre in comparison to what songs like Leave did for his performance. Maybe they are too damn happy, maybe they are very content right now but this album is a little weak and all over the place. I think after ten years, they should have taken another to put out what actually will make Matchbox fans thrilled. This isn’t it. As for trying to survive in the world of pop…well, I disagree..I think loyal Matchbox fans are the ones not listening to Katy Perry or whoever the heck is the flavour of the month. Pop lovers have always liked to buy the catchy singles but those of us that have followed the band forever are the ones that buy albums and they never had to compromise in the past for a reason – they are Matchbox Twenty. I am disappointed but only because my expectations were pretty enormous. Overall, agree with your review and it is still a heck of a lot better than what is out on the radio today. Just wish it was a little more edgier.

    Reply

    • Too true. I actually prefer their other albums but if I reviewed them they would probably all get 5/5. it was just so good to get some Matchbox sounds again after so long! I feel like after listening to Paul Doucette’s solo stuff I could really see his impact on this record as well.

      Reply

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