Matchbox Twenty, Everclear, Lifehouse (Sold out)


By KEVIN RANSOM

It never fails.

Seems like every time a hot young band violates the modern-pop rule that says you're relevant only if you're a techno/dance dweeb, an "Antichrist Superstar" or living tha thug life the band gets hammered by the hipster critics.

Take Matchbox Twenty.

The band came out of nowhere in 1996, selling 10 million copies of its debut album on the strength of its classic-rock-inspired sound jangly guitars, sturdy beats and the earnest vocals of Rob Thomas. (Not to mention the chiseled mug that spurred People magazine to name Mr. Thomas one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.)

It's the kind of sound that many older, established bands have parlayed into 25-year careers. But Matchbox Twenty was dismissed by many critics as bland and faceless and just so ... unhip.

"But the thing they seem to criticize us for is the thing we like," says Mr. Thomas by phone from Albuquerque, N.M., one stop on a tour that brings them to Reunion Arena for a sold-out show. "They say, 'Well, Matchbox Twenty just makes radio pop for the masses.' Well, fine. I grew up when that wasn't such a bad thing you know, with artists like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, early Elton John. ...

"But we're definitely not cutting-edge," Mr. Thomas says with a laugh. "We're not Limp Bizkit or Korn. Those bands are pretty much geared toward 15-year-old white suburban males, trying to get 'em to be mad about something, but not quite sure what, but if they put their hats on backwards and yell enough, they can defeat their parents or something."

Some were waiting for Matchbox Twenty to pull a Hootie that is, crash and burn with its second album. And, typical for a second outing by an overnight sensation, Mad Season has not sold as well as the debut, Yourself or Someone Like You. But then, little could; in the last five years, only a handful of albums have reached the 10 million mark. We're talking Britney, Backstreet and Sync-ster territory here. With 3 million copies sold to date, Mad Season has posted the kind of numbers most bands would kill for. It's all relative.

"We're really happy with how the new record is doing," says Mr. Thomas, 29, acknowledging that the group's record company, Atlantic, did not expect another 10-times-platinum performance. "Now, we're just part of the flow."

Mr. Thomas' life has changed for the better since the whirlwind of 1996-98, when Matchbox Twenty spent so much time on tour that he literally did not have a home. But he got married in 1999 to a woman he met when her friend dragged her to a Matchbox Twenty show and has since bought a house in Westchester County, New York.

"We still don't spend much time at home, but it's a great feeling to have a place to go home to, and have a place where all your stuff is collected," says Mr. Thomas. "I mean, it got crazy after a while, realizing that your stuff is scattered all over the country. Who loses shoes, you know? How can you have a job where you lose shoes?

"It just didn't seem right."

Kevin Ransom is a free-lance writer based in Detroit.

Published in The Dallas Morning News: 04.06.01