When I first heard Matchbox 20, a couple of years ago, my first reaction was “Man, those guys sound too much like Live.” They did, however, grow on me, and eventually sounded less like Live and more like Matchbox 20. I’ve read much since then concerning the band’s need to find an identity. However, I’ve found that they really do have their own identity, even if they occasionally sound like Live or what have you. I think their die-hard fans see this, even if most critics do not. With Mad Season, they’ve further solidified themselves in my mind as possessing their own identity.
The band’s compositions are smart and catchy on Mad Season, just as they were on Yourself and Someone Like You. Most of the songs are imbued with a section of horns, more so than the first album, and this adds to the already sharp rock of the standard guitar and bass. Lyrically, the album is also strong-and Rob Thomas’ vocals are equal to the task. Since “Smooth,” I’ve hoped he would imbibe the vocals of Matchbox 20 with more soul. There is more soul here, to be sure, but not as much as I know he’s capable of-perhaps next album, or the one after.
Other than the driving goodness of “Bent,” the first single from Mad Season, there are a few other good rockin’ tunes on the album, but for me the breadth of the album is made up of the slow, haunting balladic tunes-not in volume, but in feeling. “Leave” is one of these-a smart, almost delicate song about a woman cold and walking out on the narrator. When Rob Thomas croons that “I’m not saying / There was nothing wrong,” perhaps alluding to his own fault in the song, it certainly sounds heartfelt and real. “Rest Stop” is another song about the ending of a relationship, the woman leaving the man on the road “Just three miles from the rest stop,” one of the song’s better lines being “She said-while you were sleeping / I was listening to the radio / And wondering what you’re dreaming when / It came to mind that I didn’t care.” She promptly kicks his ass out of the car. It’s both funny and sad.
If Matchbox 20 manage to stick around for a good decade or so, we’re going to hear even more outstanding pop/rock out of them, especially if their improvement on “Mad Season” over their first album is any indication.