PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Matt Nathanson: Show Me Your Fangs

Career-defining songs from a songwriter with an already-impressive track record. Prepare to hear plenty about this for some time to come.

Matt Nathanson

Show Me Your Fangs

Label: Vanguard
US Release Date: 2015-10-02
UK Release Date: 2015-10-02

Ten albums into his recording career, Matt Nathanson’s still capable of taking risks and Show Me Your Fangs is a fitting title for an album about conquering fears and seizing the mother-loving day. Nathanson has done that to varying degrees of success on previous records but this time, his observations on life, love and the spaces in between are hyper realistic, as though they are ripped from the theater of our own dreams -- broken and otherwise. It doesn’t hurt that he crafts hook-laden gems meant to make you dance like a dang fool.

The musical vibe is contemporary with touches of late 1970s Southern California decadence and dayglow optimism teeming amid the more delicious chord changes. But whereas some of the best music of that era -- Jackson Browne’s requiems for counterculture refuse, Frey and Henley’s cocaine hangovers and Little Feat’s refusal to actually set foot upon the earth -- was about the shells that some people had become, Nathanson is confident that we can be better people now and in the future, no matter if we have ever been broken.

The sun-kissed first single “Gold in the Summertime” perfectly captures the vibe of AM radio splendor and the carefree optimism that overcomes us all somewhere between the 15th day of May and 12th day of September. It’s predictable yet appropriate fun, matching perfectly the lyrical spirit of album opener “Giants” (bound to become a show-opener for some time to come). On the deep, nuanced “Adrenaline”, Nathanson sounds like one of those acts destined for stadiums -- that song and others here are buoyed by the kind of confidence and honesty that carried U2 to those heights. And whereas somehow the Irish quartet’s name has become synonymous with all that is wrong with stardom and ambition, we should not forget that at one time that band was running battle against the machine.

Unlike Bono, Nathanson isn’t concerned with saving the world; he just wants to make it a little more inhabitable. Which is why songs such as “Bill Murray” exist. It’s not an empty or oh-so-hip nod to the comic great, but instead a pledge of love and fidelity, of charging headlong into the unknown regions of another and letting them charge headlong into yours. It’s about as lovely a love song as one could hope for in our times as Nathanson manages to pull off that unthinkable trick and say something that’s been said before but in a way that no one else has thought of yet.

It’s a trick he pulls off time and again across this 10-track collection, even on the all-too-brief “Shouting”, a sliver of a tune that you might foolishly think can’t say so much in just over two minutes. But, like a Hemingway story, it gets the job done and moves on, making room for the lengthier but no less weighty titular piece (maybe the album’s best track), “Playlists and Apologies”.

And if each of the songs here seems perfectly crafted for record, they also seem perfectly crafted for the stage. “Disappear” isn’t just likely to become one of Nathanson’s career highlights; it seems destined to become a staple of campfires and open mic nights in the coming decade, obtaining the kind of ubiquity most songwriters dream of and some maybe even fear. But fear isn’t in this artist’s vocabulary as he takes big risks with “Washington State Fight Song”, an eminently memorable, heartbreaking and quotable track that has a destiny of its own and that’s to reach across generations and speak truth as the song so eloquently does in each of its perfect verses.

Show Me Your Fangs does have a flaw and that comes in the form of the over-produced closer “Headphones”, which tries just a little too hard to be relevant and catchy. It might have had a better life as a jingle or as a disposable track on one of those compilations that plays endlessly overhead at coffee shops from coast to coast. That said, there’s something good at the core of the tune and maybe it’s just that we know it was written by someone with a real heart and real knack for telling the truth. Though maybe that’s why it feels like a cheat, because it doesn’t say anything like the other songs say, it doesn’t speak a truth that someone hasn’t already spoken. It’s escape without consequence and all the more forgettable for it.

What isn’t forgettable are the nine songs that come before that one, and for that, we have to thank Nathanson for giving us something to hold onto in an era where music has supposedly become disposable, but where art matters as much as it ever did -- especially when, like Show Me Your Fangs, it speaks to and from the heart.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.