Mad Season By Matchbox Twenty

Nobody has been looking forward to this album more than those of us who can't bear to hear "Push," "3 A.M." or "Real World" ever again. At least the arrival of fresh product by Matchbox Twenty means radio has a new set of tunes to play over. And over. And over.

Resistance is futile. Submit now and avoid the rush. Lucky for us, "Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty" is a fine effort, once you get past the pretentious title. On another highfalutin note, the band recently announced that it would henceforth answer to - ahem - Matchbox Twenty, as opposed to Matchbox 20, in order to avoid confusion with all the other groups with numerals in their names.

Frontman Rob Thomas and his sidekicks take other pains here to differentiate themselves from the pop-rock competition. Their latest release has all the hallmarks of an ambitious follow-up, from the horns that add soulful punch to "Black & White People" to the strings that heighten the drama on the album-closing ballad "You Won't Be Mine."

Of course, the flimsy, knee-deep romantic musings of Thomas can use all the lavishly orchestrated fortification they can get. Sample groanworthy lyric: "I am all that I'll ever be / When you lay your hands over me."

Matchbox Twenty's chief songwriter may not have much of a way with words. But predestined hits like the harmony-laden "Last Beautiful Girl," the bracing "Mad Season" and the single "Bent" prove Thomas (who co-wrote Santana's salsa-dipped smash "Smooth") hasn't lost his flair for memorable melodies and infectious hooks.

Brace yourselves. "Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty" has "heavy rotation" written all over it. By John Soeder, Carlo Wolf, and Chuck Yarborough