More Than You Think You Are
Matchbox Twenty's third album continues to showcase leader Rob Thomas' increasing breadth and talent as both a singer and songwriter. While the band broke into the charts with "3 a.m." and "Push" from its 1996 debut album, that disc didn't distinguish Matchbox Twenty from any number of other medium-tempo rock acts of the time. But then Thomas followed in 1999 with an astonishingly successful solo single ("Smooth") with Santana, and then a rousing hit-laden collection (Mad Season) with his band in 2000 that broke all the musical boundaries of the band's debut.
More Than You Think You Are was released at the end of 2002 and showcases yet another collection of deeply emotive, rock-radio-ready anthems. Opening with the blistering distortion crunch and angry vocal complaints of "Feel," the band then moves into the strutting single "Disease," co-written by Thomas and Mick Jagger, where love is treated as an illness:
"I got a disease deep inside me
makes me feel uneasy
I can't live without you, tell me
what am I s'posed to do about it."
Thomas shows off his roots in the piano-based "Bright Lights," a "lover please come home" song, which sounds like it could have been a hit vehicle for Elton John. Later, in "All I Need," Thomas seems to have penned a lost Roy Orbison track. There's a little back porch banjo in the infectious "Unwell," where Thomas begs a woman to stay with him and see through his current emotional instability to the "normal" man within ("I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell," he sings).
More Than You Think You Are keeps a good balance between heartfelt piano and guitar ballads ("Hand Me Down," "Could I Be You," "Bright Lights" ), and upbeat rock anthems ("Feel," "Disease," "Cold"). It "officially" ends with a gentle string-enhanced power ballad in "The Difference," but there's also a "hidden" track tucked in after "The Difference" called "So Sad So Lonely" that rocks out like a live party anthem with jungle drums and bashing cymbals.
The album includes a wallet-sized card that gives a special access code to a hidden area of the band's Web site, where album owners can watch song videos and download Thomas' 2002 holiday song, "New York Christmas."
Red Letter Days
The Wallflowers' fourth album falls closer in substance to the band's breakout disc, 1996's Bringing Down the Horse (which featured the hits "One Headlight" and "6th Avenue Heartache") than 2000's more somber Breach). Nearly every track here has a radio-ready "could be a hit" hook.
Opening with "When You're on Top," the CD's first single that mixes refreshing combinations of spoken word, techno drums and a singalong chorus, the album continues through a dozen more catchy songs, from the warm, chiming promise of "How Good It Can Get," to the pounding bass and drum rhythm of "Everybody Out of the Water" to the sing-song, head-nodding bass of "Too Late to Quit," wherein singer Jakob Dylan opines of being "much too tired," though it's "too late to quit/too soon to go home."
There's a breezy summer anthem replete with background "ooohs" and "do-do-doos" in "See You When I Get There," a Tom Petty-esque rocker where Dylan proclaims,
"I ain't sorry baby/Don't think that
We ain't done anything
that I'd take back
go on pretend
that you ain't changed
and don't worry 'bout me
I'll see you when I get there."
Red Letter Days isn't all upbeat; "Health and Happiness" is a spooky low-bass song with a sinister vibe as Dylan croons, "I wish you health, I wish you happiness, but absolutely nothing else." The piano-based, whispery throb of "Closer to You" sounds like a lost Gerry Rafferty ballad and "Three Ways" has the same delicate touch as "Three Marlenas" from Bringing Down the Horse.
The retro '60s organ gets revved up for the jam of "Everything I Need," and "Here in Pleasantville" breaks out the strummy acoustic guitar. The disc closes with a bonus track, "Empire of My Mind," the melancholic new theme song to CBS' "The Guardian."
The Wallflowers have crafted a solid return in Red Letter Days; this one gets better with every listen.