Dave Matthews Band: Stand Up
Sound/Style: rhythm-centered modern rock fusion
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- No matter what you think of his liberal politics and hodgepodge spirituality, you have to admire Dave Matthews’ rise from charismatic Virginia club musician to multimillionaire concertmaster.
Even though he records for a major label, he at least gives the appearance of separating himself from the corporate mindset – a critical issue among both rockers and fans of Matthews’ ilk in an era of the "corporation as bad guy." The fact the bandleader made it to the big leagues on the strength of his music and his regional following has given him considerable credibility with lovers of grassroots rock. Matthews and his band have amassed a huge audience simply on the basis of their live shows, famous (and equally infamous) for the quintet’s spontaneous and expanded reconstructions of their recordings.
Just as they freely follow their fancy onstage, so does Matthews veer without fear from album to album, taking stylistic risks and willingly leaving some listeners in the dust. Their latest, Stand Up, is no exception. Change for growth’s sake is laudable, but the left turns taken here are not necessarily for the better.
Matthews and company again present deep grooves and muscular musicianship, but offer little in the way of arresting melodies. While Matthews’ singular vocal style has always rendered his melodies unorthodox, he reduces them to monochromatic ramblings on the record’s most tuneless numbers, which include the two-note "Louisiana Bayou," a tale of cocaine, abuse and murder, and the title cut, built around a pungent but endlessly looping riff. Like a shimmering but shallow pond, the music itself has a superficial appeal in its engaging beats, African overtones and instrumental textures like the saxes and violin that help define the DMB sound. Once beneath the surface, though, one finds a preoccupation with self, one-dimensional sexual imagery and political bias, set to music that sounds cobbled together.
Matthews has proven himself a unique, if idiosyncratic, lyricist, weaving diverse thoughts into offbeat street poetry. However, he comes across as indulgent here. His juxtaposition of subjects is more unfocused than artistic, with supposedly anthemic and culturally relevant themes ("Stand Up," "Everybody Wake Up") often pre-empted by meandering whims.
In an apparent potshot at President Bush and his supporters, Matthews includes the lines "see the pig dressed in his finest fine, the believers stand behind him and smile" in not one, but two separate tracks. Still, his attempts to reference U.S. and world events are too splintered to leave a lasting impact, and his scattered scraps of spirituality – "the serpent, not God, pours through my veins" and "God’s love is alive inside you" – seem more like randomly placed catchwords than convictions. Meanwhile, the spiritually implicit "Hunger For The Great Light," one of the few sonically cohesive and rocking tracks, is cheapened by meager verses that focus on sexual power and pleasure.
Matthews, in a recent Rolling Stone cover story, said he believes most things are the result of "a miraculous indifference," but that he is attracted to the idea of creation being a series of miracles. His "buffet line" approach to spirituality, coupled with his tangential tendency, renders his attempts at meaningful statements mostly impotent (that is, when they’re comprehensible). If there’s a miraculous indifference in the universe, it’s more likely something resembling Matthews’ willingness to treat his million-selling status so lightly on Stand Up – a work that, in compositional and thematic terms, totters on shaky legs.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.