Life is short for most radio-friendly bands. An album is released then a single from the album appears on the Billboard charts for a few weeks. If the band is lucky, Carson Daly will introduce its video at the number one slot on MTV’s Total Request Live. After that the band quietly disappears. Band members sit at home waiting to show up on VH1’s Where Are They Now?
For Matchbox Twenty, though, there’s been a stay of execution. Last year singer Rob Thomas collaborated with guitar virtuoso Carlos Santana on the smash hit Smooth. Thanks to the success of the single, it looked like Matchbox Twenty had a fighting chance at commercial survival. Now the band has produced Mad Season (Atlantic), a trite attempt at recreating past successes. But without the help of virtuosos like Santana, the songs on the album suffer the undignified deaths they deserve.
The blues-inspired title track sounds promising, but it only reminds listeners of Matchbox Twenty’s limited musical skills. Throughout the album, the band employs the help of guests Nashville String Machine and the Atlanta Brass Society. These additions help liven up one or two carefully chosen songs. But by the time the listener hears the fourth song with a string section, the album sounds more like a Shania Twain release than an alternative guitar-rock CD.
Of course, pop-country isn’t the only genre Matchbox Twenty dubiously honors by imitation. The unavoidable Beatles rip-off comes early on the opening track Angry. The song is an uninteresting soft-rock tune that ends with a tacked-on, out-of-place sitar outro. Even Genesis gets a nod in Bed of Lies, a song with more than just its roots buried in the vocal style of Phil Collins.
Credit must be given to Savage Garden, creators of the sensitive-but-attractive pop-rocker look: pale skin, eye makeup and pleather. This is a look, style and fashion that Matchbox Twenty presents. An award should also be given to the teenage girl whose diary seems to inspire Rob Thomas’s lyrics on this album.
Clashing with the rest of the album, the current single, Bent, proves to be the hardest rocking track on the album. It’s one of the few tracks that doesn’t use backup musicians. Plagued by the alternative genre the band has been placed in, Matchbox Twenty has struggled to write even a few genuine rock songs.
Producer Matt Serletic, the man responsible for writing the orchestrations, helped bring cohesiveness to an otherwise schizophrenic album. But he does this by hiding the band’s country tinges under layers of strings.
Mad Season does come close to ending on a good note, faltering at the finish line. The last song, You Won’t Be Mine, is a mellow piano piece. But all sense of delicacy or quiet sentimentality are traded for a final orchestral blast reminiscent of Guns `n Roses’ November Rain or something off the Titanic soundtrack.
The album’s hidden track serves as a rock clich? – one more that Matchbox Twenty embraces entirely. It’s a lush but useless orchestra instrumental more fit for a James Bond film than a rock album. In the end, it’s just an eleventh-hour appeal from pop radio death row.