Okay, time for some straight talk about Matchbox Twenty and their new release, North. When a band that had its heyday over a decade ago (and has gone through two hiatuses since) releases its first album of all-original material in ten years, it’s natural that a certain set of expectations is going to be tied to that project. For me, those expectations can be expressed as follows:
- It needs to be an album that shows maturity. (The band’s audience isn’t in high school anymore.)
- It needs to be an album of substance. (Don’t break your own silence unless you have something to say.)
- If you’re going to name it North, it needs to have a sense of direction. (The word “north” in an album title tends to suggest a compass, or a guiding set of principles, or something equally weighty.)
You might guess where I’m heading with this: Matchbox Twenty’s North has none of these factors. None.
Now, when I heard the opening track “Parade” with its effected guitar riffs and Rob Thomas’ melancholy vocals carrying a very sing-able melody, I truly thought we were getting a taste of something great. This was what I’d hoped to hear, and if every song on the record were even close to this track, it wouldn’t have simply met the inherent expectations—it would have blown them out of the water.
But alas—this is where the greatness ends. The album quickly descends into a shallow abyss (is that even possible?) of occasionally radio-friendly but otherwise lackluster and forgettable tunes, far beneath what we know this band is capable of. “Put Your Hands Up” tries to be a dance power anthem, but completely lacks energy; “I Will” takes a vain stab at sentimentality, but I just didn’t believe it. Those are just two glaring examples on a fairly long and painful track list. Only one other tune on the record, “The Way,” comes a little close to the depth and maturity found on “Parade,” but the moment quickly fades.
One of the examples of the aforementioned “radio-friendliness” is the second track “She’s So Mean,” an upbeat song about a shallow girl who you know you shouldn’t want, but you do anyhow. “She’s an uptown, get-around, anything-goes girl / She’s a hardcore, candy-store, give-me-some-more girl.” Interestingly, this song sets up a great analogy for the whole record. There’s lots of “candy” and “sugar” on North, enough to get some radio airplay—but there’s just not a lot of musical nutrition. A steady diet of this will give you a tummy-ache. And for a band who’s been around the block a few times, been off-duty for awhile, and needs to make a real splash at this point in time—I really expected more.
To be fair, despite coming down on this record rather harshly, North is not a “bad” pop record by today’s standards—that is to say, I’ve heard worse. If this were a debut record from an upstart band, it would be enough to make us take notice, at least, to see what was coming next. But this is Matchbox Twenty we’re talking about. They can do better, and we all know it. So why didn’t they? Why create a directionless, throwaway record after all this time? See my point?
If you’re going to do that—at least don’t name it North. That’s just misleading.