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

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.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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