Smooth Sailing

Florida-based quintet survives harsh reviews; finds commercial, critical success with latest release.

By Alan Sculley
The Desert Sun
March 30, 2001

Matchbox 20 may have sold more than 10 million copies of its 1996 debut CD, "Yourself Or Someone Like You."

The band might have reeled off a string of hits that included "3 a.m.," "Push" and "Real World."

But along the way Matchbox 20 endured its share of critical sniping. Writers branded the band's style of guitar pop music as bland. The group was often called faceless.

That all changed when Carlos Santana's mega-hit CD, "Supernatural," hit stores, and its lead single, "Smooth," soared up the charts. The song, with its tasty blend of blues, Latin rhythms and pop, was sung and co-written by Matchbox 20 singer and chief songwriter Rob Thomas.

One of the best songs on a critically acclaimed hit album, "Smooth" not only brought Santana back into the music limelight, Thomas feels it changed perceptions about Matchbox 20.

"With the 'Smooth' thing, I feel like we've kind of been left to our own devices," said Thomas, who brings his band to the Universal Amphitheatre tonight for the second of two sold-out shows. "I don't feel like a whipping boy, that's for sure.

"After a while you do feel that. And even though it isn't what consumes you and it isn't what you walk away from (feeling), it does effect you in a way.

"I think my low point emotionally was, I was reading an Everclear review. It went through this whole review about the last Everclear record and then it said, 'But hell, they beat Matchbox 20 any day.'

"I was like, 'We didn't even have anything to do with this and they decided to throw us in there.' That was when I felt like we were just being whipped for no reason."

Now Matchbox 20 is touring in support of its second CD, "Mad Season." Ironically, Everclear is opening for the Florida-based quintet Thomas, guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette.

The CD has been received as a significant creative step forward, with songs that show more depth and variety than "Yourself Or Someone Like You." "Mad Season," meanwhile, has been a significant commercial success, having gone triple platinum and spawned the hit singles "Bent" and "If You're Gone." The latter tune remains in the top 10 on Billboard magazine's hot 100 singles chart.

Fans who enjoyed the mainstream guitar pop sound of songs like "Push," "Long Day" or "3 a.m." will still get their fix from new tracks like "Crutch," "Stop" and "Bent." But these songs are catchier and more immediately appealing than the tunes on the first CD.

Elsewhere, "Mad Season" expands the Matchbox 20 sound, as horns add a touch of soul to the group's poppy sound on "Black & White People" and embellish the delicate edge of "If You're Gone."

By the time "Mad Season" was released, the success of "Smooth" and the attention it brought to Thomas put a face on Matchbox 20 and made Thomas has feel more like a celebrity.

"It's different," he said. "It's odd because like when we sold 12 million records, we kind of thought 'Wow, we're a big band.' It's funny like what the power of someone like Carlos Santana can do. It was a whole other level."

A situation where a lead singer gets acclaim and attention separate from the rest of the band can create tensions, but Thomas said that hasn't happened in Matchbox 20. The other members, he said, are content in their roles in the band.

"I mean, the guys have all said on more than one occasion that no one wants my job," Thomas said. "The other night was a great example. Like we're sitting having dinner and there's like five drunk people hanging around your table. 'I'm sorry to bother you. Hey, can I get a picture?' 'Hey, can you hold my baby?'

"Paul just looked horrified."