More Than You Think You Are – a seamless mix of craft, storytelling and musicianship
Three years after the release of Mad Season, Matchbox returned with their incredible follow up – More Than You Think You Are. In many ways, this is their strongest and most interesting record to date. This was the album where it all came together. It combined the catchy melodies, heartache and upbeat funk of Yourself Or Someone Like You with the best of ‘70s rock. Where Yourself Or Someone Like You was a band excited and Mad Season was a band flexing its muscles, More Than You Think You Are was a band comfortable in its skin. They know exactly what they’re doing and enjoying the hell out of doing it. The band found their equilibrium and the result was a seamless mix of craft, storytelling and musicianship.
Matchbox embraced their rock roots in a way never done before. From the opening riff of Feel to the last ‘Hey!’ on So Sad, So Lonely, this record blasts out of the speakers. Instead of the over produced wall of sound that made Mad Season what it was, More Than concentrated on getting back to basics. Be it the disco, rock hybrid Disease, the sparsely arranged Unwell or the ‘70s pop inspired Bright Lights, they got back to a classic style of music making. I’m guessing that recording at Bearsville where The Rolling Stones, Todd Rundgren and 10cc have all recorded didn’t hurt.
The whole band kicks it up a gear. Riffs and licks made a welcome return; Kyle and Adam balanced simple but effective solo’s; and the guitar parts have a raw undertone that they’d not really shown since Argue and Busted. Paul’s drumming on every song is rich and resonant which helps to bring an unmistakeable rock beat that illuminates the album. Pookies bass playing is much more prevalent. The opening of You’re So Real sets the tone and bounce of the whole song and finds a groove that runs throughout the album. And Robs voice is off the hook. God bless the booze, cigarettes and endless touring that have made his voice what it is – a toned, muscular power house. Feel, Cold and Soul let his voice run free, but on songs like Hand Me Down and Could I Be You, his voice retains his trademark heartfelt tone that lets you step inside the emotion and not just hear it but feel it.
The recording itself is fuller and richer in sound and each song has an specific element that the song focuses on. Whatever they chose, gave a simple colour, flare and dimension to the song. The introduction of a choir on Downfall, for example, took a straight forward rock song and added an element of grandeur that lifted it up. Unwell and Hand Me Down introduced the Banjo and Lap Steel and bring a distinctive and slightly iconic opening to two of the best songs they’ve produced. And let’s not forget the synthesizers that helped to bring the disco groove to Disease. Once again, it was a brand new band with a brand new sound and a brand new outlook on making music.
Not only does More Than build on the feel of a band making the music together but builds on the idea of a band crafting the songs together. If they got close on Mad Season, More Than brought them even closer. Kyle and Paul co-wrote Feel and Soul, and Paul penned one of the best songs Matchbox have ever made – Could I Be You. More than ever, you get a sense of people being behind what you’re hearing, you can hear a band playing together and creating together.
Lyrically, it has a real world relevance that Mad Season lacked in places. Where their sophomore record concentrated on relationships and introspection, More Than got back to an edgy personal narrative that their debut revolved around. Of course there are songs that focus on relationships such as Disease, Cold, and Downfall but they do so with an of attitude that was only hinted at on Mad Season. The songs are much less philosophical; they assign blame; they make you feel the anger, frustration and resentment that comes when things turn sour. And Hand Me Down has the feel of an updated Kody. It takes you right back to the first record and the undertone of sheer loneliness and angst. Although every song concentrates on the purity of the emotion, it is fundamentally a storytellers record. From start to finish, they feel like stories (albeit with real life emotion). With the first two records you knew he was living it and that’s what made them so relatable. But with this record it feels like he’s writing for you and not for himself. It’s a testament to Rob’s song writing that he’s able to create a personal narrative that is authentic and believable without living it himself.
Although the record has the staple Matchbox ingredients, it has an unrelenting positivity that runs deeper than the title itself. Sure, All I Need and Soul have elements of self affirmation that give a genuine bounce and balance to the record, and sure, So Sad, So Lonely and You’re So Real give a sense of fun never heard before. But below the surface you can hear the band enjoying themselves. It doesn’t feel like they’re burning to express their lives, or have a point to prove, it feels like they love playing together and love being a band that’s found its feet. They experimented; they tried new things; and they made a record that’s about the song as a whole –every element of it. The choices they made came from experience and confidence, not from ‘trying’ to make a record. It’s that ease with themselves, as a band and as musicians, mixed with that confidence and experience that helps make this record the way it is.
It’s also the first time they’ve able captured what they do live: the fun; the excitement; and the energy. After the massive commercial success they’d had and the live following they’d built up as a touring band, the venues inevitably got bigger and bigger. I suspect that the songs were crafted around the live experience itself. There’s no doubt in my mind that Matchbox knew the next tour would be an arena one and so made songs to fit that setting. Although not classically epic like Mad Season, More Than has a anthemic scale, that when experienced live, grabs you with both hands and lifts you to the roof. Anyone who has ever stood on the floor of a Matchbox Twenty show and sung the chorus of Soul with all that you have in yours, will know what I’m talking about.
Out of all the Matchbox records to date, More Than You Think You Are really is something special. They mix everything we’ve come to know and love about its predecessors, updated it, played with it, put it through a rock filter, wrap it up in real life and enjoyed every moment of it. It’s big; it’s balanced; it’s interesting; but most importantly it’s good, it’s really good. It is another step forward; another evolution. It’s living, breathing, rock and roll proof that Matchbox Twenty don’t just get older, they get better.