Matchbox Twenty strums outside the box

Copyright 2003 New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad
New Straits Times (Malaysia)

February 16, 2003, Sunday

SECTION: Beat; Pg. 20

LENGTH: 473 words

WHEN Matchbox Twenty first emerged in late 1996 with their debut album, Yourself Or Someone Like You, cynical critics wrote them off as a contributory to the legions of post-grunge guitar bands. Some even ventured that the band was a one-hit wonder when its first single, Push, climbed the charts. In true rock-and-roll fashion, Matchbox Twenty outfoxed critics by charting a few more singles and selling millions of copies of the album without much hype.

It took four years, but by the turn of the century, their debut album had sold 10 million copies in the US without topping the charts. Their combination of 1970s arena rock and 1990s hard rock seemed a winning formula for them to emerge as America's most popular rock band.

The de facto leader is lead singer-songwriter Rob Thomas. He obsessively studied a broad range of singer/songwriters, especially Van Morrison, Paul Simon and Elvis Costello. His only goal was to belong to the 1990s generation of "musicians that matter".

Writing songs is like therapy for Thomas; the healing effect is evident in his songs. His knack for turning his lyrics into what could pass for conversation between two old friends is perfectly offset by the pliant backing of his band mates.

Matchbox Twenty reserved 1999 as the year to record their eagerly anticipated second album, Mad Season. Something else happened that propelled Thomas and the band to a higher consciousness. The unexpected success of Smooth, a Santana song co-written and sung by Thomas on the star-studded Supernatural album, immediately made him much sought after. Thomas was voted BMI's 1999 "Pop Songwriter of the Year," and a year later, won three Grammys for Smooth: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

Practically every radio-rock band that's not rap metal or punk, sounds like a louder version of Matchbox Twenty. So, it's to be expected that the real thing would crank up their guitars. They improved upon and diversified their familiar blend of classic rock and alternative rock on their latest album, More Than You Think You Are. The new album's first single, a disco-rock romp titled Disease, co-written by Mick Jagger, evokes vintage INXS, while more typical tracks such as Soul displays a finesse that the band's previous power ballads lacked.

"The global appeal of Matchbox Twenty is predicated on two simple facts: their songs are infectious, and they have something to say that people can identify with," says Adrian Lim, Warner Music's marketing director. "With the new album, the band lays all its cards on the table. Musically, it's the band's most mature and powerful work to date."

More Than You Think You Are, released on Lava/Atlantic Records, is distributed by Warner Music, and is available nationwide.