Heartfelt new-rockers Matchbox 20 still smoulder and sizzle

"Matchbox 20 has truly become its own entity, and we really wanted to let it grow and evolve on this record. When we get together, we combine all our talents into one incredible whole. That's the beauty of this band - we make a beautiful noise together."

-Rob Thomas

For over six years, they've been burning holes in teenage hearts. Their powerful rock ballads have steamed up the charts. Their impassioned lyrics and driving riffs have set a new standard for rock music. And though the strains of "Push" may (sadly) have faded from your radio, the bright star of Matchbox 20 still shines bright.

"More Than You Think You Are" is the title of MB20's latest release, and its November explosion onto the new-rock scene reminded America that its favourite radio darlings have far from disappeared. MB20 troubadours Rob Thomas, Adam Gaynor, Kyle Cook, Paul Doucette, and Brian Yale have crafted a record that is smooth and stylish - almost sensual.

"One of the things about this record that I'm really happy about is the groovability," Gaynor notes. "It makes you want to move your hips a little bit. It's more sensual, more sexy than anything we've ever done. And even the more laid-back numbers have that vibe."

No doubt that MB20's millions of female fans would agree. As reported by MTV, devoted MB girls across the continent have gone to fandom lengths that many would call extreme - like getting Rob Thomas tattoos, engaging in schoolyard catfights over their favourite MB20 members, and selling off personal items like their parents' cars in exchange for rare band memorabilia. In one bizarre case, an Arlington, Virginia fan sent Rob Thomas a vial of her own blood, along with a piece of paper bearing the words "My Soul" and a Ziploc bag filled with her toenail clippings.

But we should hardly be surprised that devotees have gone to such lengths for MB20. After all, the band is one of the most admired and consistently successful rock bands in recent history, with over 20 million albums sold worldwide. Named as the "Best New Band" in the 1997 Rolling Stone Readers Poll, they have since moved from accomplishment to accomplishment, clearly establishing themselves as an exceptional unit, both in the studio and on stage.

And one need only take a single look into Rob Thomas' ice-blue peepers before falling instantly and forever in love with these heroes of modern rock. Thomas has the genuine passion and sense of directness that allows Matchbox 20 to truly make a connection with the listener. His lyrics are among the most complex, intense, and sincere in music today.

In "Long Day," Thomas displays his keen understanding of existential philosophy: "I'm so terrified of no one else but me I'm here all the time I won't go away it's me, yeah I can't get myself to go away it's me, and I can't get myself to go away oh God shouldn't feel this way." His sense of rhyming and meter is impeccable, as illustrated in "Back 2 Good": "All that time she knew if I lied you can bet she will she's taking her time 'til I thought I would die and I can't sit still."

And though MB20 draws heavily from Eastern philosophies and lifeways (Thomas: "I always listen to my chi"), the Florida boys have stayed true to their down-home Yankee roots - especially in recent times of world trouble. "I eat freedom fries every day," says Gaynor. "It's the American way."

With their pride in America, their driving and passionate songs, and their dazzling members, MB20 have truly hit upon the recipe for success. They've won the continent's hearts for six years now, and no doubt they will continue to do so for decades to come. When the rock critics of the future look back on the 1990s and 2000s, only a few bands will stand out from the glut of Top 40 modern rock radio: among them will be Tonic, Coldplay, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Collective Soul, but flying high at the top of the list will certainly be MB20.

By Kiki Weld, The MD