Listen to your mother's iPod
It's Mad Season yet again.
Nearly 10 years ago, the greatest mom rock album was released. We were still fresh into the new millennium, and Matchbox Twenty's Mad Season burst out of the '90s and directly into every mother's heart. The ballads are touching, and the lead singer is sufficiently attractive. If there was ever an album tailor-made to sweep your mother (and mine) off her feet, this is the one.
Ten years later, everything that should render this album a completely overwrought, outdated and downright excessive sophomore effort from one of the '90s angstiest bands, somehow doesn't. For reference, 2000 was a year of top hits from the likes of Eiffel 65, Destiny's Child and *NSYNC. At least in hindsight, Mad Season stood apart even then.
From the very start, it's clear enough this is a reformed band with a better attitude -- and Twenty in place of 20. The first track, "Angry," disavows all 96's Yourself or Someone Like You stood for: "And it's good that I'm not angry anymore." This is an album about lead singer Rob Thomas and his insecurities, not him being pissed off at a world that just "doesn't get me, man." It's not the brainiest or most original of changes but certainly a step in the right direction that helps age this record better than the band's first.
If you didn't catch on when the album first came out, Thomas' songwriting is actually cleverer than you might remember. Recognizing he's not complaining about The Man and singing more affective and personal lyrics than before is the first step to being OK with your inner mom. It's not Dylan's poetry, but it's also not a cheese-fest à la the Santana collaboration "Smooth," which was unleashed upon the world that same year.
Again, though Mad Season reeks of '70s-era overproduction, it still works in a time in which lo-fi is boss. The horns, strings and soulful back-up singers don't distract; they compliment. The first half of the album ("Black & White People," "Last Beautiful Girl") is particularly energized by this sense of trying all things possible at once. By taking all these risks and packing so much creativity into Mad Season, the band was able to create an album that distanced itself from the wasteland of '90s one hit wonders and the general hokeyness of that music era.
Today, Matchbox Twenty holds a strange spot in the '90s stadium rock pantheon — the band's still together. Six new (and actually fully developed) songs were included in a greatest hits package three years ago. Plans continue to be made for a new album, even after Thomas' massive success as a solo artist.
In the context of other bands of their ilk, Matchbox Twenty might just be able to pull out another well-crafted album. Third Eye Blind did it last year, even after a lengthy hiatus and album re-writes. Then again, Everclear's Art Alexakis has been slumming around and dragging the band's greatest hits through the mud for years.
For now, though, Mad Season is Matchbox Twenty's classic, an album that combines all that was actually right with the '90s with some forward-thinking production and songwriting. In this case, Mom actually does know best.