Matchbox Twenty tickets go on sale today at noon -- the show's July 26 at Comerica Theatre -- which means that this weekend is a time for you to reflect on whether, why, and how much you love America's most indestructible post-grunge band.
For me those answers are yes, because they're so overproduced and they don't care, and more than I used to be willing to admit. No mid-90s success put the "post" in "post-grunge" quite like Matchbox Twenty; two years after Kurt Cobain's death, they combined alt-rock volume and angst with 80s-rock polish, and four albums later every song sounds like grunge recorded by Phil Ramone inside an airlock. I'm supposed to dislike that, I think, but I don't -- I want to bounce a quarter off that guitar tone in "If You're Gone," and I will, and I will.
Here, then, are the Top 10 Overproduced Matchbox Twenty Moments I'm going to silently hope they can replicate live. (Does Matt Serletic tour with them?)
10. She's So Mean - Drum/Vocals Hiccup (1:18)
"She's So Mean" was Matchbox Twenty's first single since the most recent Death of Rock, and I have to think they took that as a challenge. Despite a big hook, lyrics that hit the girl-who-wants-to-be-considered-a-bad-girl-kind-of demographic bullseye, and an updated version of the usual gloss--how many times do you think he rehearsed that "Oh!"--it didn't quite take off.
My guess why: Matchbox Twenty can never go full-crossover. They can make a rock song that sounds like "Moves Like Jagger," but they can't make a pop song that sounds like a rock song.
9. 3AM - Just The Whole Jammy 90s Veneer
My working hypothesis is that most of the songs on Yourself or Something Like You sound equal parts 1996 and 1986, but "3AM" is a time capsule -- this is full-on Hootie-and-the-Phish-Crows approachable-guy rock.
Except that, because Matt Serletic is producing it, it sounds like Matchbox Twenty working to isolate and perfect that formula after surreptitiously discovering it at a state fair. That's actually 150 acoustic-guitar overdubs you're hearing under the verse.
8. Disease - Angry-Sounding Intro Riff
I cannot begin to explain how fitting it is that, seeking to Get Back to Rock Basics, Rob Thomas cowrote a song with 2002 Mick Jagger. The result, inevitably, was a slightly sneery Matchbox Twenty song with a lead guitar on loan from the Bon Jovi library.
These guys just aren't nearly as threatening as they are catchy; when they try it they become the tough rock band that would dance-fight another tough rock band in a suspiciously glammed-up Michael Jackson video.
7. Bent - Intro Drums (0:00), Chorus Synth (1:09)
The wide gaps between Matchbox Twenty records mean that by the time mad season came out in 2000, the deliriously shiny "Bent" passed for straight-ahead rock. In 1996 the best-selling album in America had been Jagged Little Pill; in 1997 the Spice Girls landed, and 2000's top CD was *NSYNC's No Strings Attached.
Which explains, I guess, how they slipped those echoing drums and that synth line underneath a genuinely aggressive riff and got a No. 1 hit out of it.
6. Unwell - That Banjo, Come ON (3:05)
The good people of Banjo Hangout Dot Org could not immediately confirm this was even a banjo.
5. How Far We've Come - Ostensibly Raw Drums
In "Bent" they went out of their way to create overproduced drums that sound overproduced. For "How Far We've Come," their greatest-hits single, they nodded at indie rock and went for big, raw-sounding drums that sound like they took forever to get that way.
4. Mad Season - Backing Vocals
I have to admit that this one sneaked up on me, but listen to that last chorus. How many Rob Thomases (and, Kyle Cooks and Adam Gaynors and the guy from Dog's Eye Views, apparently) are in this song? The vocal arrangement in this song isn't like the Beach Boys, or anything, except inasmuch as you'd need Brian Wilson's huge touring band to perform it.
3. Last Beautiful Girl - Stirring Finish (2:00-)
Is it possible for a song to be too Matchbox Twenty? This one -- the rump single at the end of Mad Season's run on the charts -- has the quiet harmonies stuffed in weird places, the twinkling guitars, the histrionic final chorus, and, while it's at it, a prechorus that just sounds a lot like the "Mad Season" prechorus.
But at two minutes in, there's a sudden, genuinely surprising shift in tempo, and you can feel the band trying to force all those elements into a little spontaneity, which of course makes them sound more rehearsed and perfect. There's even a just-noodlin'-around-you-guys guitar solo! Your boss just undid the top button of his dress shirt and called dibs on the next game of ping pong!
2-1. Back 2 Good, If You're Gone - Woodwinds, trumpets, etc. (various)
I tried to choose -- I really did -- but I could not choose. It is a fact we're just going to have to deal with: Matchbox Twenty sold not just me but most of the country on a hit single garnished with the instruments from theTaxi
soundtrack, and they did ittwice
"Back 2 Good" features a woodwind quintet and a prominent bassoon part. It's a single from their youthful, irreverent debut album (look at that irreverent video!) that is also a five-minute ballad with a bassoon in it.
On "If You're Gone," one diamond album later, they drop all scrappy-young-underdog pretense. (There's something endearingly honest about the way they abandoned all claims to alt-rock authenticity and started looking like rich and famous people once they became rich and famous.)
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SHOW ME HOW
The result: A black-and-white, sitting-on-stools, equipment-plugged-in Serious Music Video for a song that features multiple completely different super-slick guitar tones, hazy synths where all the space would be in somebody else's mix, and a sad trumpet. And it wouldn't work without all that.
Violins would be the novice's overproduction move, but Rob Thomas and Matt Serletic are experts. They were born on a click track. And that's why the fussiness that's supposed to repel me has always appealed to me instead: They don't half-ass trying too hard.