Modern Love, the seventh studio release from Matt Nathanson, a Massachusetts-born singer-songwriter, may be the closest a pop album comes to perfection this year. Opening with the hook-laden “Faster”, which owes a minor debt to George Michael’s “Faith”, the album is a wall-to-wall meditation and celebration of exactly what its title promises. Rarely, if ever, has love—modern or otherwise—sounded as much fun as it does in the tales that Nathanson weaves here.
Although the title suggests something a little more up to the moment, the collection also celebrates the pop music of the late 1980s and the early, almost pre-dawn hours of the 1990s. Witness as the artist gets his Bono and (early, “Runaway”-era) Bon Jovi on during the soaring “Room @ The End Of The World”, a tune that seems tailor-made for inclusion in some cinematic adventure. Elsewhere, he eases his way through well-constructed melodies such as the one at the heart of the slow and soulful build behind “Kiss Quick” or the acoustic fire ballad “Kept”.
Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush join Nathanson for the arena-ready sleek and sexy number “Run”, one of the pieces that best exemplifies his emotive abilities and superlative phrasing. Although one might suspect that, based on the strength of the quieter material, Nathanson can’t handle more raucous rocking, he silences those suspicions on “Queen Of (K)Nots”, which imagines a perfect union between those lads in Travis and Mutt Lange.
It’s that balancing of the ballads and the high-energy numbers, including “Drop To Hold You”, that elevates Modern Love to its high levels. Whereas many singer-songwriter records begin to run out of moods to cover and metaphors to twist and turn and emotions to explore by the time the curtain opens on the second act, this record remains strong from end to end, never exhausting its sonic maneuvers or source material.
Perhaps this is because so much of the record feels like true intimacy—Nathanson communicating with one muse from beginning to end rather than a series of fickle and fleeting ones (an idea, by the way, that seems a good reminder of the many faces of love). Perhaps it’s because Nathanson is a superior talent or perhaps it’s both and then some. Whatever the case, all of this is handled with an uncommon adeptness, the kind that suggests that younger writers will be carrying the torch forward in coming years, honing their own craft as they attempt to find the kind of spark that makes “Bottom Of The Sea” instantly memorable or “Love Comes Tumbling Down” so damned breathtaking.
True, Modern Love’s production is a little of-the-moment, but not to the detriment of the recording. This will probably not be any worse for the wear in 20 years than Achtung Baby or Jackson Browne’s The Pretender, a claim that too few of Nathanson’s contemporaries will be able to make. Modern Love will undoubtedly have a long and positive legacy, one that can be appreciated by a broad audience if only that audience can listen without prejudice.