Matt Nathanson | Modern Love (Vanguard)

 

“Room @ the End of the World” introduces us to Nathanson’s lovely falsetto, a delectable sound we’ll hear more of before the album’s through.

 
After dipping his toes into major-label waters in 2003 with fourth album Beneath These Fireworks, Matt Nathan receded a bit before re-emerging on indie label Vanguard. Breakthrough album Some Mad Hope saw him exploding in popularity. While the attention—as a mellow rocker, no less—has elevated his status, he remains a clever and entertaining songwriter, as evidenced by new release Modern Love.
If you can get past the introductory guitar line lifted straight from George Michael’s “Faith” (don’t worry; after a few listens, you’ll forget you’ve heard it before), Modern Love is a musical ride of the best kind. Talent abounds, indubitably.
Intro track “Faster” is upbeat and catchy as hell. Maybe a better (more cynical?) woman could listen to this one without dancing in her seat, but I’m not her. Up next, the title track is bouncy and employs one of my favorite lyrical techniques: the third-person story. “She said, ‘This talking kind of wears me out/ and all these salesmen, baby, make me tired/ They’re no good. To tell you the truth,’ she said/ ‘I’ve been getting used to lying.’”
Although technically a breakup song, “Love Comes Tumbling Down” seeps optimism: “Hope, hope will put the colors in the sky/ hope, hope will set this world of wrong to right.” More upbeat is the following track, “Room @ the End of the World,” which Nathanson sees as a fine place for reconnecting. This song, too, introduces us to Nathanson’s lovely falsetto, a delectable sound we’ll hear more of before the album’s through.
Nathanson strips it down with “Kiss Quick,” a Grey’s Anatomy tune that remains above the fray. It has teeth; they’re just filed down. Rock ’n’ roll comes to the forefront on “Mercy,” a bit of a departure from Nathanson’s usual fare, not just on this album but elsewhere in his catalog. As he sings “Mercy, mercy, both hands/ I need less drowning, more land,” the guitar and drums feature prominently beneath his words.
“Kept” finds Nathanson ruing the decision to commit to a failed relationship. Understated and mellow, the song is backed by a congo drum and lyrics such as, “I should have kept my head/ should have kept my heart.” “Run” is all sorts of great, a solid pop-rock song—until the introduction of Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a fan; what does matter is that Nettles’ voice is all wrong for this song. She’s got rich, rock and country-filled pipes; this song needs someone more gentle, like Martha Wainwright.
The claws come out again on “Queen of (K)nots.” While the music’s great, Nathanson’s voice doesn’t quite fit. He’s more suited for ballads and pop-rock; this one’s just a little too hard for his style. He returns to the familiar with “Drop to Hold You” and disc closer “Bottom of the Sea.” On the final song, Nathanson admits, “Tried my best to be someone else, someone else’s/ and now there’s nothing left/ I’ve got nothing left but me.” It’s a beautiful, piano-filled song, quietly upbeat and uplifting. We all get lost, he’s saying, but sooner or later, we all find ourselves, too.
I interviewed Matt Nathanson a few years back, following the self-release of his live acoustic album, At the Point. He had somewhat recently gotten married, and I wondered how that would affect his sad sack breakup songs. He assured me then that he had plenty of history left to write about. One listen to Modern Love proves him right yet again. Nathanson’s star will only continue to rise—and well deservedly, too. B+ | Laura Hamlett

 

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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