Matchbox Twenty's strong pop album feeds aging fire

By Ed De La Garza, The Daily Cougar

Matchbox Twenty is a like fine wine -- it needs cheese to make it complete.

It's hard to believe the band is still around. It has yet to make any grand musical statements or produce anything resembling a classic album. It debuted in 1996 with "Yourself Or Someone Like You," a collection of empty hooks and heartfelt lyrics. A follow-up, "Mad Season," wasn't released until 2000. It showed a band even more eager to embrace schmaltz.

So why is it still around -- and why are so many millions of fans convinced it's a good band? Well, maybe it's not half-bad.

With the new "More Than You Think You Are," singer/songwriter Rob Thomas has gotten better at writing a hook that'll grab you against your will. It's pure pop, but it's finely crafted pop. The only difference is that this time around, the band turns up the guitars.

"Feel," "Cold" and an unlisted track at the end rock harder than MB20 ever has. "Disease," co-written by Mick Jagger, sounds like an updated version of "Smooth," Thomas' collaboration with Carlos Santana. "Bright Lights" sounds like something torn from Adam Duritz's songbook. In truth, Thomas has never sounded better.

But "More Than You Think You Are" probably won't win over too many converts. The band still strays into sugary pop ballads (complete with choirs and orchestral arrangements). You can probably blame Thomas for the majority of those. He's a romantic at heart, but there has to be a better way to sound empathetic than to take on the significant other's persona. And no, it's not always going to be OK.

"Hand Me Down" is a pretty enough ditty, but it screams adult contemporary and sounds like it would be more at home on a Kenny Chesney album. "Soul" tries its hardest, but doesn't have any, well, soul. The difference starts like an ode to Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band but quickly turns into another vehicle for Thomas to show off his sincerity.

But even at its cheesiest, at least MB20 takes the craft seriously. Kyle Cook (lead guitars), Adam Gaynor (guitars), Brian Yale (bass) and Paul Doucette (drums) have usually floated around in the background while Thomas plays the sensitive leader.

But they step to the front on this album -- and Doucette isn't a slouch at writing songs either. His solo contribution, "Could I Be You," complete with sudden time change and "Na, na, na na" chorus, almost saves the album's second half.

It has no business being around. But at six-years-old, Thomas and Co. don't show any signs of going anywhere.

(C) 2002 The Daily Cougar via U-WIRE