matchbox twenty sparks plenty of appeal

By Mike Osegueda, Fresno Bee (California)

Like many things having to do with matchbox twenty, Paul Doucette isn't exactly sure why the band uses lowercase m's and t's in its name and logos.

Doucette, the band's drummer, doesn't have much of an explanation. He usually designs those types of things. He says he uses lower-case letters for no reason other than aesthetics -- it just looks better that way, he says.

Similarly, he's not exactly sure how to classify the band's music.

When he flips on MTV and sees something like the Video Music Awards, he says to himself: "Wow. We don't fit in there."

When he clicks on the radio, his reaction is often, "We're definitely not that, thank God."

What they are is a mix of pop, arena rock, '70s rock with hints of the Beatles, Elton John and others.

It just sounds better that way, Doucette says.

The guys of matchbox twenty, who perform Tuesday at the Save Mart Center at Fresno State, can, by most accounts, be thrown into the adult alternative category. Their music is not too hard, not too soft and every word frontman Rob Thomas sings resonates with listeners.

"They're writing songs that have more hooks than a tackle box," says E. Curtis Johnson, the program director at KALZ, FM 102.7. "That just gives them a broad reach, a broad appeal."

Yes, it's a prime example of Pop Music 101. It is everything popular music is meant to be: clear, catchy, easy to repeat and easy to digest.

"We always have a philosophy that it's about the song. We're a very song-oriented band," Doucette says. "We're not necessarily trying to be a band that has a specific sound. We're trying to be a band that has great songs."

The airwaves of MTV may not be the place to find matchbox twenty, but the charts are.

"Unwell" and "Disease" from the band's latest album, "More Than You Think You Are," both have reached No. 1. "Unwell" sits at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the adult contemporary chart, after peaking at No. 1 and staying there for 18 weeks

The new album debuted at No. 6, has spent eight months in the Billboard 200 and has sold more than 1.3 million copies. Nice enough for a platinum plaque, but it still pales next to the group's debut, "Yourself or Someone Like You," which went platinum 10 times.

"In a couple of years, hopefully, we'll have earned a place in the big history that is rock," Doucette says. "As of right now, we're just trying to make great records. The one thing that's been a detraction and our biggest asset is that we've never fallen into a category and we've never had to be a certain thing because people expect something of us."

So what exactly is it that people flock to? The catchy songs? The words? The live shows? The hooks? Once again, Doucette is not exactly sure.

"Maybe it's because Rob's pretty hot," he muses.

He's joking, but that should also be on the list.

"Rob Thomas is right now what Rod Stewart was in the '70s," Johnson says. "Good-looking guy, women want to be with him, guys want to be him. He crosses a lot of different interest bases and their musical tastes."

Thomas' singing and writing along with three albums' worth of slick-sounding, toe-tapping songs certainly helps.

As does the band's willingness to embrace mainstream status and accept being a pop-rock band.

Another lesson of Pop Music 101: To sell millions of albums, it is necessary to attract millions of people.

"We've always had this crazy, wide fan base," Doucette says. "You look out into our crowd and you'll see teenagers next to people our age -- we're like in our 30s -- next to people who are like, 50 and everyone in between. All singing every word. We don't know why that is, but we're thankful for it."

Again, he's not exactly sure why, but it sure does work better that way.

"Anyone can listen to us," he said. "We're trying to follow in the grand tradition of Tom Petty, who just put out great records. Everyone likes good music."