Confidence can take you a long way. Matchbox Twenty have the self confidence of mainstream American pop rock, and twenty eight million album sales to show for it. For this music the rules have been laid down by Springsteen, U2 and INXS. The emphasis is on craftsmanship, 'classic' songs with bridges and middle eights, big gestures and bigger emotions.
This collection of hit singles contains 6 new songs. For these the band have slimmed down to a four piece and are writing collectively, rather than just being a vehicle for singer Rob Thomas' material. To my ears, these changes have done them a power of good. 'How Far We've Come' springs out of the traps like a sleek and hungry greyhound. It boasts a powerful hook and a tightly written and convincing lyric. 'I'll Believe You When' and 'If I Fall' are bright, sixties-style pop, 'All Your Reasons' combines punchy rock with memorable harmonies. The writing and arrangements are polished and detailed. Steve Lillywhite's clean, well-lit production gives the band character and drive.
However, the already released material is a decidedly mixed bag. Some songs like 'Long Day', and the funky 'Disease' have good hooks, with original touches here and there, like the banjo in 'Unwell'. But the production is pretty ordinary and so are some of the songs, which too often plod along. Thomas substitutes long-winded lyrics and trembling vocal rhetoric for real emotion on the irritating and unconvincing 'Push'. 'Real World' is limp, finger pointing and tuneless. it's hard to believe a song as ordinary as 'Bent' was a number one in the US.
So the new songs are better than the old ones. Surprisingly for a greatest hits package, Exile On Mainstream suggests Matchbox Twenty's best music could be in their future, not their past. --Nick Reynolds
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