Third Eye Blind, Better Than Ezra, Alice in Chains, Collective Soul- the list goes on and on, bands that are still relatively active in the 21st century yet tied down to their 90’s past, and largely argued prime. Matchbox Twenty debuted with the absolutely massive “Yourself or Someone Like You” featuring the likes of at least three, if not four huge hits from the 90’s. Excellent. The early millennium has been a bit more fortunate for the group than to some of their peers, charting here and there with songs like “Unwell” and “Bent.”
Matchbox Twenty then went on a lengthy hiatus, to my count, a 10 year break from their last album and their latest release, “North.” Time has been intensely fortunate for front man Rob Thomas, who released two solo albums in this time and broke records, some of them even surpassing the group we rose from.
But it is not all about acclaim and rewards- right? Sometimes it’s just about the “music, man.” I would have strongly believed this sentiment from Matchbox Twenty circa-2002 when they had three excellent to good albums to their title. But in 2012, the band finds themselves trying to recapture a sound and mentality that may have left them on the side of the road all those years prior.
“North” is, by all accounts, a reasonable album. Fans of the group will find things to enjoy here, as there are brief glimpses of Matchbox Twenty’s inarguable prime here. Songs like “Overjoyed” are pretty and elegant, and soar above a soft melody that reminds one of what Matchbox Twenty can do when they get their own formula right.
“Parade” launches with an acoustic melody that simply soars, and builds into a gorgeous crescendo. It sets a perfect tone for the album that lasts just a few minutes until “She’s So Mean” comes on. It’s bubbly and silly, and belongs as a barely-made-the-cut track 8 Katy Perry song.
From the opening songs, you just have scattered sort of –hits and complete misses. The group introduces seedy electronics in “Like Sugar” and direct dance-disco with “Put Your Hands Up.” It feels as if grown men are trying to capture a sound that is done by 20 year olds in clubs. The only band that can get away with this type of thing at their age is Maroon 5, and that’s a total mystery.
“North” is soft and melodic and some places, and silly and stupid in others. Matchbox Twenty aren’t trying to eclipse their classic 90’s material, but by shying away from it and introducing elements popular in dance and modern pop (not even getting into the lyrics which are just cringe-worthy at times) they end up sounding like older men jumping on a bandwagon they never particularly belonged to in the first place.