Many people dislike the Dave Matthews Band because of their fans. This is silly, first because it’s unfair to dislike a band for its fans, and second because there’s plenty of reason to dislike DMB for their music alone. Matthews’ rambling and inconsistent songwriting, the band’s self-indulgent musicianship, and the crass sentimentalism of the lyrics are often reason enough.
I don’t mean to sound whiny or quarrelsome, but readers ought to know that like any critic I’m no totally impartial judge. It’s certainly defensible if you like them, but some of us would prefer not to be told we lack musical taste for thinking DMB’s more exquisite disasters (“Proudest Monkey” or “Crash into Me,” for example) are the worst crap imaginable.
This isn’t to say that they can’t at moments be very good. The rhythm section of Stefan Lessard and Carter Beauford has always been extraordinary, Boyd Tinsley’s manic violin playing always gripping, and Matthews’ voice always supple. When Matthews’ songwriting matches his band’s virtuosity, as in “Crash”‘s “Two Step,” they have few peers and even fewer betters. And in their memorable cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” the combination of Dylan’s song and DMB’s technical skill is nothing short of amazing.
Their new album, “Everyday,” sounds nothing like their past releases, and this is precisely why it’s so good. The band no longer shies away from power chords and tight song structure. Best of all, no tracks are filled out with long, boring violin or sax solos, or meander, without direction, past all good taste and reason into the realm of the soporific. More than that, “Everyday” is very catchy. Memorable hooks were lacking in DMB’s past two studio albums, especially “Before These Crowded Streets,” but they’re everywhere on this record. “What You Are” and “So Right,” which seems destined to be a hit single, are particularly hard to get out of your mind.
But Matthews hasn’t got over his addiction to the shamelessly corny. This makes for a few terrible songs. “Angel,” if you except Creed, Christina, Britney and the various boy bands, is perhaps the worst song I’ve heard in the past year. Matthews has a Hallmark-card soul, and “Angel” sounds like a slightly raunchy Hallmark card. “Why do I beg like a child for your candy?” Dave wails, with what sounds like John Tesh piano stylings in the background. And whenever LeRoi Moore enters with a sax riff, the song seems like a porn soundtrack for the prep-school set. “Sleep to Dream Her” is also quite bad, because, unlike most of the other songs, it lacks force. The verses drag, and the arrangement tries to make up for it with synthesizers and other sonic curlicues. It doesn’t work, though, and the track ends up being an over-elaborate bore.
One pleasantly surprising thing about “Everyday” is that it attains a successful brand of white-boy funk that “Crash” and “Crowded Streets” attempted but failed at miserably. “When the World Ends” is an example of this. With the best bass line I’ve yet heard in a Dave Matthews song, Lessard’s formidable talent comes to the fore, helped out in no small part by Beauford. The song’s funkiness also lets Moore’s saxophone seem appropriate, whereas in other places it often sounds out of place and added merely as an afterthought. For his part, Matthews avoids saccharine love lyrics in favor of simple lust, and it works: “Your legs don’t work ’cause you want me so / You just lie spread against the wall,” he croons. It’s a welcome change.
Most importantly, “Everyday” just rocks. Matthews has thrown away the pot and patchouli oil and strapped on some leather pants and bought himself a bottle of scotch. Musically, this album turns away from loose and lazy songwriting in the style of the Grateful Dead and replaces it with the straightforward hard rock of “Led Zeppelin II” and Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic.” The concept is hardly original, but in the hands of such talented musicians, the style is reborn.
This is surely the Dave Matthews Band’s best album so far. It does remain to be seen if the fans of his earlier material will like it, but if they don’t, it doesn’t much matter. The band will deservedly gain new fans with this new release, after all. And Matthews will also gain more critical plaudits, too – provided he never goes back to what he was doing before, and keeps putting out albums that have as much force and drive as “Everyday.”