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Reviewed by Will Harris
Some would suggest that this might be a slight overreaction on their part. Then again, this is the lead singer of matchbox twenty we’re talking about.
It’s hard to recall a time when a particular musician seemed quite so ubiquitous on the airwaves as Thomas has been since, say, about 1997. Looking at his track record, it’s not hard to see why he’s been so inescapable. matchbox twenty has had a steady stream of radio singles - “Long Day,” “Push,” “3 AM,” “Bent,” “Back 2 Good,” and “Unwell” being a random sampling of them - and let’s not even get started on the overplaying of his collaboration with Santana on the inescapable “Smooth.” Beyond that, he wrote a song for Willie Nelson (“Maria [Shut Up And Kiss Me]”) that got everyone’s favorite bandana-sporting country singer closer to the pop airwaves than he’d been since he and Julio Iglesias crooned about all the girls they’d loved before. Hell, Thomas even threw Mick Jagger a bone and helped co-write a song for his most recent solo album...a thoughtful gesture, if a wasted one, since everyone knows that Jagger solo albums never sell well, no matter who cameos.
That Thomas has opted to emerge with a solo album is none too surprising, given that the results of an average-man-on-the-street poll would likely find that precisely no-one could tell you the name of any other member of matchbox twenty. In fact, if this album proves to be a commercial success, the odds of seeing another Thomas solo release before the next matchbox twenty album will probably increase tenfold.
A guy like Thomas isn’t going to head into his solo debut without having some serious talent behind him. Dig just some of the highlights of those who appear on enough of the disc’s tracks to be classified as “regulars”:
- Mike Campbell, one of Tom Petty’s more notable Heartbreakers.
- Wendy Malvoin, who put the “Wendy” in Prince’s protégés, Wendy and Lisa.
- Gerald Heyward, a percussionist best known for his work with a trifecta of R&B’s best B’s: Brandy, Blackstreet, and Beyonce.
- Mike Elizondo, lately a bassist for hire for folks like Liz Phair and Gwen Stefani, but formerly a protege of Dr. Dre, having worked with Enimem, Snoop Dogg, and...well, practically everyone in Dre’s crew.
- Jeff Trott, who, in addition to serving as a member of both Wire Train and World Party, has co-written many of Sheryl Crow’s biggest hits, including “Everyday Is A Winding Road,” “If It Makes You Happy,” and “Soak Up The Sun.
Last but not least, plinking the keys is none other than Matt Serletic, who does double duty by also serving as producer; if the name rings a bell, it’s because Serletic also manned the boards for matchbox twenty’s three albums, as well as for Angie Aparo, the Exies, and America’s sweetheart herself, Courtney Love.
...Something To Be’s opening salvo, “This Is How A Heart Breaks,” is a full-on rocker, with drummer Heyward pounding the skins with all the bombast of Phil Collins at the beginning of Frida’s “I Know There’s Something Going On.” (Note to readers: If you find this reference is too obscure, please feel free to substitute the phrase “...with all the bombast of Phil Collins when “In The Air Tonight” kicks into overdrive.) Even doubting Thomases will have to admit that this is a crunchy piece of pop/rock that’ll make for some extremely enjoyable ear candy on the airwaves.
The second track, “Lonely No More,” is the album’s first single, but its slight Spanish tinges seem designed to capture the same listeners who enjoyed “Smooth.” Unfortunately, it’s less Santana than it is Ricky Martin or Enrique Iglesias, so it’s definitely designed to be a mainstream smash rather than even pretending to capture the ears of rock fans.
After its first two songs, however, much of ...Something To Be comes and goes without necessarily leaving a trace on first listen, best described as pleasant but not immediately memorable. There are, however, a pair of exceptions spread within the remainder of the disc’s contents, one of which is “Fallin’ To Pieces”; it has a chorus that’s just quirky enough to catch the ear.
The true star of the disc, though, is “Streetcorner Symphony,” a track that features John Mayer guesting on guitar. Remember this prediction: if Atlantic has the sense to release this song to radio, it will be a smash. It’s only May, but the odds of “Streetcorner Symphony” being defined as one of the definitive summer singles of 2005 seem pretty damned solid to this writer.
Few will use the word “groundbreaking” or “experimental” to describe it, but it’s doubtful that Thomas is concerned about that. ...Something To Be has no goal loftier than to be a solid mainstream pop/rock album, and, on that level, it succeeds. And, hey, if nothing else, it doubles Rob Thomas’s chances to continue getting his material on record store shelves and onto the airwaves.
As to whether that’s a good thing or not is left to the listener. May they choose wisely.