Music

Matthew Barber: Sweet Nothing

Liam Colle

Perfectly titled, this album is required listening for down-to-earth toddlers (and their parents).


Matthew Barber

Sweet Nothing

Label: Warner
US Release Date: 2005-09-27
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Following the more hushed acoustics of his last two releases, Matthew Barbers enters the electric fray with his major label debut LP. And though there are still trace amounts of those quiet numbers, the drive of Sweet Nothing is in the gas pedal. Gaining momentum from likeable vocals and conventional rock songwriting, Barber and his band, the Union Dues, rev up the charm factor and narrowly escape the corny. With help from members of Metric and Stars and his sister Jill Barber, Matthew Barber has crafted a significantly enjoyable album. This is good clean pop rock.

For all intents and purposes, I should hate this album. I don't though, no matter how much I try to rationalize its deficiencies. In the face of sugared melodies and bland lyrics I find continued pleasure in listening to Sweet Nothing. Maybe it's because it stirs the same quaint sentimentality that Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever stirred up 15 years ago. I still hold on tightly to that tape and somehow I doubt Barber's quiet gem will make the trip to the used record store anytime soon.

Like Tom Petty or the Traveling Wilburys, Matthew Barber plays tender back porch rock 'n' roll. Not that Barber is alone in his contemporary pursuit of the simple folk rock anthem. But unlike most of the guitar-slinging cads on popular radio today, he avoids sounding self-important or backward. His songs are modest and rollicking and don't overstep their effectiveness. From the acoustic balladry of "Water from a Tap" to the pumping on your stereo vibe of "Soft One", Barber plays within his means.

It is a small wonder that Sweet Nothing manages to maintain an agreeable note throughout. Barber's tunes are often one half step away from the cornfield, but since it's all so unassuming, the mush is usually tolerable. Most of the time the banal lyrics are incidental, but occasionally the clichés are overwhelming. The importance Barber places on the rhyme can sometimes overpower a song's charm. "The Plea", for instance, is a pleasingly little faux soul ditty that is almost ruined by its silly chorus, "don't lie to me don't lie to me/ I'm innocent your guilty". Barber does not pay any effort toward making this record sound cool or innovative. He knows he's doing what an infinite number have already attempted, but he does it pretty well anyhow.

On the wonderful creeper "Easy to Fall" Barber himself acknowledges the perils of his well-trodden path, "I bet you heard another ditty with these chords/ I don't give a shit now everything's been done/ All that matters is that you do it and you have a little fun". The unadorned simplicity of the song is typical of the entire album and a strong indication of the honesty of Barber's motivation. He is a singer-songwriter in that purest sense. Like Springsteen or Springfield, Matt Barber builds his songs from humanist and populist foundations.

Considering that long-established framework, it's very likely that Barber and the Union Dues will be winning hearts across North America. And I guess it's no shock that "Like Lightning" got my two-year-old niece rocking in her car seat, despite the fact that she's more of a reggae fan. So just as Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever had me singing along with my parents on road trips from Ontario to Florida, Matthew Barber's music is bound to produce some familial rock outs.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image