“The only one that’s left to trust / My faithless heart wasted us…” Wow. To describe the highlighted lyric as merely poetic would an understatement. Matt Nathanson possesses the wonderful gift to compose songs that are thoughtfully conceived, in the singer/songwriter vein. Not only can Nathanson pen ‘em, he can also sing them with great passion and nuance. On his 2013 effort, Last of the Great Pretenders, Nathanson delivers a set of 11 songs that soundly represent his musical talents. Tightly assembled at under 40 minutes, Last of the Great Pretenders is no ‘pretender’ itself, easily captivating.
“Earthquake Weather” creates a quite a favorable first impression, establishing a head-nodding, piano-ostinato fueled groove. Setting the tone compellingly, “Earthquake Weather” eschews the ‘middle of the road’ trap. Over the course of his vocal performance, Nathanson radiates with personality, whether it’s the emphasis he places on certain melodic lines or the infectious jubilance on the recurring, soulful “wo oh oh!” Single “Mission Bells” continues to propel the momentum, with dusty, soulful drums coupled with some sweet flashes of falsetto. Affected by a dream of his lover’s death, Nathanson wishes to share his dedication to his lover, inquiring “What kind of man misunderstands a woman like you” and “What kind of fool thinks love’s a prison or a handicap?” Where many may come off as schmaltzy, Nathanson delivers his Hitchcock, ‘love story via street fight’ convincingly.
“Last Days of Summer in San Francisco” finds Nathanson singing in his lower register initially, before ascending into his more triumphant mid/upper register. Crafted narratively, Nathanson illustrates an ‘exhausted’ summer (“We spent July in a Berkley basement / Half read books and bold declarations”), summed up by its chorus (“…we’ll fade out to whispers / It’s the last days of summer in San Francisco”). Of the opening trio, “Last Days” would most warrant a middlesome label. However, I think it manages to escape unscathed… for the most part.
The contrasts of a quicker tempo and lightheartedness is welcomed on “Kinks Shirt”, in which Nathanson’s digging on “…that girl in the Kinks shirt”. After revealing his infatuation of her every move, he then trades his inner hipster for more sensitive-mindedness via “Sky High Honey”. Restrained without a feeling lethargic, Nathanson sounds incredibly sincere. He continues to exhibit differing facets of himself musically, hitting the jackpot on the rocking “Annie’s Always Waiting (For the Next One to Leave)”. Flexing his adventuresome, rockstar muscles, Nathanson boasts, “Annie’s always waiting for the next one to leave… she’s always on time for me.” As much as “Annie’s Always Waiting” benefits from its levity, it equally benefits from its orderliness as far as its form.
“Kill the Lights” continues to present Last of the Great Pretendersas the ‘gift that keeps on giving’, even being more predictable than its predecessors. “Heart Starts” atones for any miscues, providing the singer with a well suited folk-pop backdrop intact with acoustic guitar. The enthusiasm translates onto “Birthday Girl”, though it’s less impressive. Penultimate track “Sunday New York Times” slackens the tempo, with Nathanson blaming himself for the failings of a relationship (“You were the saint, and I was the liar…”) and later reasoning “… Sometimes you’re still mine, between the lines of the Sunday New York Times“. “Farewell December” closes solidly, but lacks the same punch that was showcased by the front of the album.
When all is said and done, Last of the Great Pretenders is a well assembled, enjoyable album. Even when the material is slightly less ear-catching, Nathanson remains in good voice, always delivering. Ultimately, Last of the Great Pretenders has no glaring missteps and is a welcome addition to his discography.