Matchbox Twenty were in for a challenge when marking their comeback with North, their first full-length studio album since 2002 and first new material in five years. A lot has changed in that amount of time and many of their musical peers have failed to sustain the popularity they maintained during the turn of the century. With the new record, what you might expect from the band is what you’d get except they do succumb to the party-pop trends of the current mainstream scene.
The first single She’s So Mean sacrifices Rob Thomas‘ usual introspective lyrics with youthful lines and a catchy melody borrowing from the pages of Train, who experienced a resurgence by re-evaluating their methods of pop-song production. Co-written by Rob with band members Kyle Cook and Paul Doucette, the song gives the band a slightly new persona as one that is less serious with more fun, tongue-in-cheek lines: “she’s an uptown, get-around, anything-goes girl/She’s a hardcore, candy-store, gimme-some-more girl.” This is emphasized further with Put Your Hands Up, a Maroon 5-styled pop song that would even work for the aforementioned Train given their recent abilities at awkwardly fitting into the current pop scene. The simplistic chorus “put your hands up/it’s all right/singing oh-oh/until the sun rise,” sound out of place for the band whose songs have always have elaborate built-up choruses. Despite their attempts, such an alteration in sound might not come with as much ease since they tend to fall on the rockier side compared to the others.
With that said, this album lacks the rock-edged song that marked their prior records, perhaps indicating a purposeful change away from their edgy roots. Even still, much of North is classic-sounding Matchbox Twenty. Parade is an obvious single choice for the band, providing a great yet familiar opening to the record with a song that builds up to the chorus, like a restyled If You’re Gone in non-ballad form.
Three of the album’s highlights are the three tracks not written with Rob. English Town is a slight step away from their norm written by Paul Doucette while not venturing out of their comfort zone, with a traveling piano and dramatic drums that give it that extra depth. How Long, written by Kyle Cook, is a compromise between their old and newly acquired sounds with an 80s-like light rock melody a la Huey Lewis & the News. The most pleasant surprise comes on The Way, written by both but with Kyle on lead vocals. Kyle’s vocal has a folky tinge to them, similar to that of 90s rock band Sister Hazel‘s lead singer Ken Block. It sounds odd to have a MB20 song without Rob singing but it opens the door for a side project with Kyle leading the way.
North is a pleasant album, reintroducing one of the late 90s most successful bands. The record offers a wide variety of sounds ranging from their older, albeit out-of-style sound to their newer out-of-character attempts. They are strongest with songwriting contributions from Paul and Kyle, opening up what could be a new chapter for them if they choose to embrace it rather than move more toward simpler pop as is indicated in several tracks here. On Radio, Rob sings “we know it’s right/we heard it on the radio,” this time, that might not be what their aim should be.
2. She’s So Mean
4. Put Your Hands Up
5. Our Song
6. I Will
7. English Town
8. How Long
10. The Way
11. Like Sugar
12. Sleeping At The Wheel