R. Thomas & co. return with style

Krista Tschetter

Krista Tschetter

They’re the late 90s band that opened the door for a lot of real crappy later 90s bands, but as the prototype for feel-good radio filler, Matchbox Twenty began and continues to stay a step ahead of their rock-flavored pop contemporaries.

In their third release, More Than You Think You Are, Matchbox Twenty plays it oh-so-smart. Staying true to form, the twelve tracks don’t deviate much from the meat-and-potatoes pop rock line that ran through the band’s first two albums.

There’s also a discernible instrumental maturity to the latest installment (track nine, “Downfall,” features a driving gospel choir), a natural bi-product emitted when rock stars leave the free-wheeling days (and egos) of youth behind to get married and have kids.

But what sets Matchbox Twenty apart most on this, and their two previous albums, is lead singer Rob Thomas. His songwriting is adequate and honest, and he sticks to simple love-gone-weird songs even your Great Aunt Edna could relate to.

Most of all, however, it’s Thomas’ gravel staccato vocals that elevate Matchbox’s simple fare to higher levels. The guy can sing lyrics like “when we’re sad, it’s kind of a drag” and make them sound like Shelley love poems. Thomas has also grown more soulful in the last few years, evident on tracks like “Bright Lights,” the only even-sort-of ballad on the disc. Thomas’ piano bar blues peak during the bridge, an uncanny vocal incarnation of (may the rock gods have mercy on my soul) one John Lennon. The individual tracks on More Than You Think You Are are consistently catchy and grittier than Matchbox’s previous stuff. The albums stretches a little thin across tracks like “Soul,” which sounds like it was written in fridge poetry magnets. There’s also the first single, “Disease,” co-written by Thomas and Mick Jagger, while a lot of fun, it should be re-titled “Almost ‘Smooth’ but Not Quite.” High Points include an eight-minute bonus track called “The Difference,” a swinging nod to the alt-country movement.

Matchbox’s benign yet hook-ey-as-all-heck approach makes them soluble in both the adult contemporary and teen pop markets, and the current Top 40 focus on hip hop and bebop will ensure these tracks won’t be played to death like “Push” and “3 a.m.”

Overall, More Than You Think You Are is a good disc from a predictably solid band. You can almost forgive them for opening the door for Lifehouse. Almost.