Matchbox Twenty and Their Mad Season
are the most dreaded two words a hardworking rock band can hear. The
words ring in their ears 'til their hoops jangle and leave them
shaking in their dusty engineer boots. Certainly the last thing they
want to do is hear them after a hugely successful debut record and
600 gigs in 3 years. Nevertheless, here they are: "SOPHOMORE
For those not familiar with this record company nightmare, it refers
to the seemingly innate manner in which otherwise flourishing young
bands follow up million-selling debut albums with, for lack of a
better word, crap. Their second release usually seems hastily thrown
together and often bears a very close and ultimately boring
resemblance to the first record. Of course, the explanations for
this phenomenon are many and far-reaching, ranging from bad karmic
alignment to very long-lasting hangovers. In reality, the answer is
likely far less sexy than all that - the sad majority just don't
have the musical innards to keep creating interesting music.
How does a potentially great band avoid the curse? Well, if you
follow the example of matchbox twenty, the answer is simple: you
draw on every ounce of creativity, talent, and raw energy you have
and focus all your efforts on your studio work.
Then, just for good measure, you have your singer co-write one of
the hottest singles of the past decade and perform on the
highest-selling album of the year.
"Certainly the Santana thing didn't hurt us," snickers
matchbox twenty guitarist Kyle Cook from the Atlantic offices in
Georgia, "though we were a bit concerned when Rob (Thomas) was
recording "Smooth" that we would be somehow lumped into
the whole Latin pop thing that was really exploding at the time. Of
course, what it really did was bring our music to a whole other
Slightly understated. "Smooth", co-written and performed
by matchbox singer Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana, has driven
Santana's comeback album "Supernatural" up past 1 million
units in Canada alone. It achieved the coveted all-format crossover
status recently attained by artists like Alanis Morissette and
Lauryn Hill, solidifying a far-reaching fan base from pre-teens to
Just what effect this kind of huge success will have on matchbox
twenty will be seen in the coming months, after the release of their
second album, "mad season by matchbox twenty" on
May 23rd. This 13-song collection of straight-ahead rock melodies
follows up the solid success of their 1996 debut "yourself
or someone like you", and makes a concerted effort to
embrace the soul of that record while pushing past the trap of
self-imitation to really define their true sound.
"The last thing we wanted to do was release a re-written
version of the last record, and I really feel that we avoided
that", insists Cook. "The first album was us just getting
our feet wet - it kind of hit the ground running and was very raw.
This time around we took a lot more time to nurture the sound and
the feel of the record. The songs were more carefully arranged. The
most noticeable similarity it has to the last album is the fact that
Rob still knows how to capture a melody."
Indeed, Thomas seems to have taken the writing process of this
record very seriously. Following an extended break from the grueling
touring schedule of the last album, Rob and producer Matt Serletic
(who also produced the debut) locked themselves in a North Carolina
cabin for a fairly intense writing session. What emerged was the
skeleton of the new album, but Cook insists that it was the studio
process where the songs really took life.
" We all took one giant step forward with Mad Season, really
pushing our techniques and abilities to the max. We also brought in
some horns and strings to fill out the sound. The real stand-out
element on this record is the backbone, which I think the past few
years experience has given us."
Certainly Mad Season's sound shows an instrumental thickness
and texture that was less visible on Yourself Or Someone Like You.
Songs like "Black and White People", "Crutch"
and "Angry" vibrate with rhythm-rich guitar lines and
pumped up horn arrangements, while "You Won't Be Mine"
reinforces its lyrical sentiment with a 68-piece orchestra. The
backup vocals emerge from songs with a real Beatlesque weight,
swelling up behind Thomas's distinct voice with strikingly intricate
harmonies, especially in tunes like "Last Beautiful Girl"
and "Mad Season".
is the melodies, however, that will resonate with listeners most.
"If You're Gone" is a strong ballad so smooth and lyrical
that the longing is almost palpable, and "Bed Of Lies" has
a memorable chorus that could take its place confidently behind
songs by Billy Joel or Elvis Costello. "Rob did a lot more
writing on piano this time around," says Cook, " and I
personally think that makes the songs more interesting. His chord
knowledge is better on piano than it is on guitar, so the patterns
have more variety and excitement to them."
Not surprisingly, it's the integrity of the music on Mad Season that
is most important to Kyle Cook. As a graduate of the Atlanta
Institute Of Music, he brings years of theory and technique to a
band that roots itself in bar room rock. "The school experience
was great and I would do it all again. I got to spend all my time
learning and playing with unbelievably talented players. It
certainly helped my playing, but it's not integral to what we do in
matchbox. Rob understands theory but writes from his gut. All the
music instruction in the world can't create a truly good piece of
rock 'n roll."
If anything, Mad Season is just that - good rock 'n roll complete
with great hooks and honest emotion. As for the 'sophomore curse',
matchbox twenty's manager Michael Lippman told Billboard magazine
recently that "we've been listening to everyone tell us how
this record is going to fail, how we're a one-hit wonder, even if
we've had four or five top singles. All that makes us do is work
harder and come together stronger." Cook's view is muted but
positive. "I'm incredibly proud of this record. That won't
change whether we sell one copy or one million."