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PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Matthew: Everybody Down

Everybody Down

Let’s be frank, shall we? Everybody Down is an entirely bland release with no glimmers of individual personality at all. That Matthew is a group and not a singular person adds to this feeling of identity crisis. Still, it sounds like it would do well on the radio, and Matthew seem destined for a decent ride on the touring circuit thanks to this average sound and middle of the road energy. The public already has enough of this type of band going around to sustain them for a few years, so one more shouldn’t hurt, right? Well, if Matthew does manage to eke a career out of this funk, it cannot be for the long run.

Not that it would necessarily have to be, but it is a bit of a shame that a label as well-respected and enjoyable as Rykodisc should bother with such a release. Generally, you can be guaranteed of some great act landing there. Such groups as Morphine and Sugar certainly pushed the label to being something other than just a superb reissue factory. And who could complain with those reissues? The David Bowie catalogue on Rykodisc was far superior to the re-releases sent out on Virgin, and the Elvis Costello discs were fantastic as well, making the whole proposition of buying the newer Rhino reissues a bit silly, even if they do include a bonus disc with each album. Of course, if you didn’t have the Rykodisc versions, they’re a terrific buy.

But Matthew is a group that’s a bit of a puzzler. They don’t seem to have anything unique about their sound, and while they do sound radio-friendly even then Everybody Down sounds like it would get lost in the shuffle. Featuring Brian McSweeney on vocals, guitar, and piano, Jason Spie on guitar and keyboard, James Scott on bass, and Matt Sumpter on drums, Matthew plays a kind of rock that you wouldn’t classify as alternative, yet you wouldn’t really describe it as all out rock, either. It’s just a plain album with no real distinguishing features.

The band’s biggest downfall is probably its inability to escape the shadow of its heroes Radiohead. The first song here, “Everybody Down” sounds like Thom Yorke and pals circa The Bends with all of the guts ripped out. McSweeney wavers in and out of his falsetto as the by-the-books guitars lay down a bit of a jangle, a bit of distortion. The choruses then open up as the double-tracked vocals go into high gear and for a moment it sounds like Matthew might be onto something. But once the song is over, you’ve completely forgotten it because there was no impression to be made. It just came and went, perhaps pleasantly, but without much substance.

It’s that lack of oomph that plagues the entire album. “Open Wide” revisits Pablo Honey territory at first with its tension cranked bass lines but then descends into an aural puddle of clean cut mush with its anticipated chords and ringing harmonies that all scream you’ve heard this before somewhere else. And you have. There are hints of the Posies lurking about in the attempts at fusing the pop into the Radiohead, but it all fails on both counts.

That’s only the first two songs on the album. “This Time” is one of the worst Radiohead clones here, striking a pose as an OK Computer leftover with no suspense at all. It drags along through five minutes of interchanging quietly somber passages and revved up loud sections while McSweeney continues to flirt with the Yorke vocalizing through harmonies. It doesn’t work for a second, nor does the attempted rave-up “Never” or the sickly ballad “In the Wonder”.

In a time of bands copying each other and in turn whittling themselves down into a pile of blank music, Matthew stands at the top of the heap. Their inspiration might be some of the most revered, but their music and playing is completely forgettable. It’s hard to think of another band of late that has put out an album this uninteresting. There aren’t really any songs that will reach out and grab you or make you feel that you should play this album too often. For such a professional sounding group, one would perhaps expect a bit more, but these guys really don’t have much to say at all.