Matchbox Twenty (Rob Thomas, Paul Doucette, Kyle Cook, and Bryan Yale) reunite to deliver their anticipated fourth studio album, North ten years following their last proper studio effort, More Than You Think You Know. Sure the band released 2007’s Exile on Mainstream, but this was not a proper studio effort, but instead a compilation. It is an incredibly arduous task for a musician of any kind to return after a lengthy hiatus such that Matchbox Twenty has taken. The positives about such a return tailored to the group are that frontman Rob Thomas has remained somewhat visible, releasing two solo albums, the platinum selling …Something To Be (2005) and the less-well-received Cradlesong (2009). That taken into account, the hiatus seems shorter at say three years.
The question that becomes relevant with a ‘comeback’ album is how does one tailor the material to be successful in a music industry – particularly pop – that is ever changing in sounds, trends, and gimmicks? On North, the band stays true to themselves, but also know how to craft songs with the sensibilities of the times of Maroon5, Katy Perry, etc. That isn’t to say they feel that techno is necessary, but a few synths and electronic elements (think “Lonely No More”) don’t hurt sometimes. It doesn’t hurt that tried-and-true produce Matt Serletic is on board, right? The results are effective, making North quite enjoyable.
“Parade” opens the effort rhythmically with electric guitar lines. The sound is typical of a Rob Thomas penned cut, featuring the same signature songwriting, vocal nuances, and adult-alternative styled sound. Vocally, Thomas sounds great, with the vocal production being extremely well executed. Strings add a nice ‘sheen’ for sure, serving as a highlight to the opener. If there is one quibble, it is that “Parade” suffers from the syndrome of coming off ever so slightly ‘middle-of-the-road.’ It works, and pretty well mind you, but it lacks that ‘extra special something’ to make it truly distinct or cutting edge.
“She’s So Mean” is the atonement for “Parade’s” middling moments. The single instantly garners the listener’s attention. Highlighted by a sound drum groove and the tom-drum riff that reoccurs throughout, the overall production is brilliantly crafted. The songwriting, crafted by Thomas, Paul Doucette, and Kyle Cook, is top-notch, highlighted by several clever lines. Thomas sings of the ‘girl’ which is the center of this tune in verse two “You better get your s%*# together, cause she’s bringing you down, now…” He goes on to state she’s willing to do anything: “Cause she’s an uptown, get-around, anything goes girl…” who “…drinks Bacardi in the morning till it goes to her head…” No lyrics are more catchier than the big-time chorus: “Saying yea, and you want her/but she’s so mean (you’ll never let her go, why don’t you let her go?)…” The perfect reintroduction, “She’s So Mean” is exciting, well written, and extremely catchy.
“Overjoyed” proceeds, again another songwriting effort by Thomas, Doucette and Cook. The tempo is expectedly slackened from “She’s So Mean,” aiming more for adult contemporary status. The strings once more highlight this cut, as does solid vocals from Thomas. “Then maybe, maybe let me hold you baby/let me come over I will tell you secrets nobody knows/I cannot over state I will be overjoyed,” Thomas sings on the chorus. Much like “Parade,” the cut is solid, though never reaches the ‘boil’ hopes it could’ve.
“Put You Hands Up” plays a role similar to “She’s So Mean” in atoning for any improprieties from the former cut (being nitpicky of course). Exciting and possessing more ‘bounce’ than “Overjoyed,” “Put Your Hands Up” benefits from quicker tempo, highly present bass/rhythmic electric guitar, and a modern pop feel on the refrain. Add to the list of highlights the brevity (under three minutes!) and “Put Your Hands Up” is another strong showing on North.
“Our Song,” penned solely by Thomas, keeps the tempo quick as opposed to reverting back to slower means. The use of synthetic elements is a nicely added timbre, not to mention the vocal harmonies and pummeling drums. Well penned and catchy, the chorus is once again a highlight: “Oh no, I’m gonna be there always/after the pain has gone away/the feeling is so strong/this can be our song, this can be our song…” No quibbles here.
“I Will” opens with the cliché count off (“1,2,3,4”) and finds the band pulling back the tempo. Despite the slower pace, there is still constant rhythmic motion keeping things ‘moving along,’ a plus. Thomas is initially accompanied only by guitar, but gradually, more instruments layer in. The timely addition of piano on the refrain is one of the nicest additions of timbre throughout the entirety of North. As with all other songs on this effort, “I Will’s” songwriting strength shines through the chorus: “And sleep away/don’t let it go/don’t let it fade/your dreams may cave/and falling apart/its the only way/we go so low/when you don’t know/I will…I will…”
“English Town” opens moodily with a mysterious, ominous sound about it. The use of keyboard synths adds to the unique timbre, not to mention the chilly acoustic piano patch itself. Thomas’s vocals are restrained and dark at the onset; by the chorus and successive verse, Thomas sounds less mysterious. “English Town” may not be the ‘cream of the crop’ per say, but it continues the consistency that North has exhibited throughout its course.
“How Long” initiates with bright, synthetic sounds. As always, Thomas shines, even if “How Long” is ‘B+’ at best in relation to cuts the likes of “She’s So Mean.” “Radio” steals the show giving “She’s So Mean” a ‘run for its money.’ The rhythmic groove is established instantly and the sound is completely a contrast to everything else. Lightening quick and funky given the use of horns within the production, “Radio” is a winner ‘through and through.’ “Come on now people it’s all we got/we feel it in our hearts for sure/Like a song that’s been playing for all our lives/we know it’s right/we heard it on the radio,” Thomas sings enthusiastically on the chorus. “Radio” exhibits nothing less than musical excellence.
“The Way” slackens the tempo of “How Long,” but doesn’t concede much energy. The sound can be described as ‘sunny.’ Aiming for an adult contemporary ‘nod’ here, “The Way” is enjoyable. Penultimate cut “Like Sugar” reminds one of the electric sensibilities of Thomas’s “Lonely No More” as well as the electronic trends of modern pop. “Like Sugar” is by no means a techo-infused European pop showing, but it does provide Matchbox Twentya bridge to pop music in 2012. The dark, minor key works well.
“Sleeping At The Wheel” closes the effort much more traditionally than the previous cut, “Like Sugar.” “Sleeping At The Wheel” is likened more to “Parade” which opens the album. The main issue with “Sleeping At The Wheel” is that the best material has already graced North making “Sleeping At The Wheel” feel more like the ‘stepchild.’ It is not bad, but it also lacks the distinction of ‘high-powered’ cuts.
Overall, North is a welcome, well-crafted comeback album from Matchbox Twenty. Expected to easily bow atop the Billboard 200 Charts, North more than ‘gets the job done.‘ North most likely won’t solidify the previous-generation pop/rock band into pop music royalty by 2012’s standards, but they definitely should have a couple of quality weeks upon the chart. Highly recommended, without a hitch.
Top Picks: “She’s So Mean,” “Put Your Hands Up,” “Our Song,” “Radio”
You can purchase North digitally at iTunes: North (Deluxe Version) by Matchbox Twenty … – iTunes – Apple
You can also purchase North from amazon’s mp3 store: Amazon.com: North: Matchbox Twenty: MP3 Downloads