Mad Season – A Collective, Evolving
Mad Season is a record all about change. How could it not be? Over 10 million albums sold, years of touring, numerous awards and nominations, a number one collaboration with Santana, marriages and children – Matchbox Twenty had to be, and was, a different band. And with Mad Season they decided to look forward not back.
From start to finish – Mad Season is a record that chronicles a band transition. Musically, lyrically, melodically and sonically, Matchbox Twenty was on the move. Gone were the four chord progressions and simple melodies. Gone was anger and angst. Gone was the single message. It was a record that allowed every idea that had built up since the release of their debut album to be indulged and realised. Where Yourself Or Someone Like You was beautifully simple, Mad Season was purposefully complex. With layered guitars, multi track vocals, epic drums, interesting melodies, string, brass and woodwind sections, their individual and collective talents were showcased. From start to finish there is not a moment of dead air. Every second is filled with a wall of sound.
When you listen, you know this was not a new style that the band was announcing for good, but simply a point in time, specific to where they were, specific to who they were. It was a an experimental stop on the way to bigger and better things. That’s not to say that Mad Season was an after thought. Far from it. The album was well thought out and has a coherency that makes it work effortlessly.
Mad Season was the point at which the music became not just a vehicle for Rob’s songs but a key that unlocked the bands capabilities. The band as a whole found a new groove. They were finding their feet to be sure, but there was a sense they were confident in their talents. Crutch, Mad Season and Bent showed Kyle’s guitar playing in a new light. He was able to break out of the linear guitar lines ‘Yourself Or Someone Like You’ dictated and move into more disjointed yet colourful solos and licks. Paul’s drumming took on new life too. Granted, on songs such as If You’re Gone and Rest Stop it was a keeping time exercise, but Angry, Bent, Stop and You Won’t Be Mine allowed the versatile drummer to emerge.
Mad Season also represented a point in time where Rob’s voice hit a peak. He appeared to be a different singer completely. His southern twang disappeared. He was at a midpoint between the rough around the edges tone of Yourself or Someone Like You and the practiced, muscular voice he achieved by More Than You Think You Are. His voice was crystal clear and smooth. It had a delicate presence. It’s hard to imagine the ’96 or ’02 Rob Thomas pulling off the sweet tone displayed on songs like ‘Bed of Lies’ and ‘Leave’ let alone ‘If You’re Gone’.
Not only did Rob’s voice mature, his song writing did too. Developing on the themes of Yourself Or Someone Like You, it moved away from manipulation and heartbreak and looked at relationships in a different way. It was more about breakups, uncertainty of your life together and co-dependency. The undercurrents of anger and angst that ran through the first record evolved: anger turned into brooding; and angst turned into reflection – Black & White People and Mad Season are prime examples of a songwriter trying to figure his new life out. It marked a new maturity and level of craft not just for Rob but for the band as a whole.
This was without a doubt a record made by a band in transition. But were there other reasons for the Mad Season sound? By Mad Season’s release in ’00, the musical landscape had changed. Post grunge alt rock had taken a back seat to a more radio friendly breed of alternative rock. This record had to compete on the radio. They had to make a record that was going to announce their return after so long gone.
Was Mad Season made for the naysayers? After the phenomenal success of Yourself Or Someone Like You, accusations of blandness quickly followed. Was the drive to make a slightly experimental record driven by the need to earn mass respect and to quiet the critics with a great big deafening silence? There is no doubt that there was a lot of pressure surrounding the next record they made. Whatever they did, it would be compared by fans and critics alike to Yourself Or Someone Like You, a record they could never eclipse. Rob would be under the spotlight as a songwriter. He had to prove he wasn’t just 3AM and Push. And the band had to prove they were a band worthy of being classed as one. There was a feeling that Matchbox Twenty was Rob Thomas and his better than average backing band. As honest as Mad Season is, it feels at times that they went out of their way to shout out loud that this was not a bland backing band, but a real five piece outfit that was capable of being interesting. It was a band flexing its muscles, with each member was showcasing their individual talents.
Regardless of their intentions, Mad Season showed everyone that this was not a band simply riding the wave of an era in music or a band that got lucky. It was a clear demonstration that Matchbox Twenty is a collective, a talented band from top to bottom, a band that understood the craft of making music and could wield it effortlessly. But as different and removed from their debut as it was, the key elements of Matchbox Twenty song writing remained: it was honest; believable; and as relatable. It was simply expressing the next stage of their lives.