Matchbox Twenty - Exile On Mainstream
Mike Jennings 20/10/2007
Matchbox Twenty were a band caught in between two frames of mind: the impulse to release a greatest hits compilation as questions were being asked regarding the band's future, and the desire for the Floridian four-piece to get back in the studio, full time, and record an entire new album. It was this creative confusion that led, thankfully, to the release of Exile on Mainstream. Yes, technically, it's a greatest hits album. But not many best-of collections include six new songs - an EP's worth - as part of the deal.
The retrospective of the Grammy award-winning band spans their trio of albums and is a tidy summing up of a hugely successful career. Each album is pretty well represented - début release Yourself or Someone Like You has 5 songs included, the group's other two albums contribute three songs each - and it's an ideal way for a newcomer to get to grips with Matchbox Twenty's addictive pop-rock leanings but also vital for any hardened fan: the six new tracks make sure of that.
The eleven songs, though, that have been chosen to form the meat of this collection are the ones that are most well known to the public at large but lose none of their catchy impact because of huge amounts of radio airplay during the band's heyday towards the end of the 90's and the turn of the millennium.
One of the strengths of a collection like this is the ability to see, at a glance, the progression and evolution of a band through their career - and Exile on Mainstream (named with an ironic nod to both their popularity and recent collaborator Mick Jagger) is no different. The multitude of songs, for example, work wonders to show off versatile lead singer Rob Thomas - who crooned on Smooth with guitar legend Carlos Santana - and the changes that have effected his voice over the years with evidently growing maturity as he's developed from a punk-tinged teenage whine on first single Long Day to the confident vocals on later hits like Disease.
The new songs, too, continue a fine tradition of Matchbox Twenty contemporary lyrics coupled with infectious, guitar-driven pop - How Far We've Come is an energetic choice for the new album's first single despite the melancholic lyrics, and other new songs impress, especially the potential smash-hit of All Your Reasons and REM-esque intro of If I Fall.
It's a shame, though, that guitarist Kyle Cook didn't turn his guitar up a little, as some of the tunes included with this collection would have sounded even better with a bit of power-pop crunch behind the clean-toned chords and thoughtful melodies that punctuate the CD.
Don't let that put you off, though - fans will find the 6 new tracks a worthwhile incentive to purchase the new record, and newcomers to the band will be quickly entranced by the intelligent lyrics, passionately sung, backed up by confident, well-produced musicianship that's reminiscent of the finest mainstream rock with the pop sensibilities that give the seventeen songs the effortless confidence of many a top-40 anthem.