Music News

Dave Matthews Band

Upon its emergence in the early '90s, the Dave Matthews Band was either critically ignored or dismissed by reviewers as yet another in a seemingly endless string of sincere, acoustic-oriented jam acts then headlining clubs in every college town in America. And even the decent numbers racked up by the 1994 disc Under the Table and Dreaming failed to generate much enthusiasm among tastemakers for Dave and company. After all, their CDs, while generally inoffensive, seemed as fresh and original as the billionth widget to come off the assembly line, and claims that "they're much better live" were easy to translate as "They're much better when I'm stoned and drunk." Hell, John Tesh is, too -- or so I've been told by certain stoners and drunks.

The mega-success of 1996's Crash changed all that. Scribes fearful of appearing out of touch (yet unconcerned about looking like desperately insecure bandwagon-jumpers) began gulping down their reservations like fistfuls of popcorn, which helps explain why Before These Crowded Streets, a typical snoozefest from 1998, garnered mostly glowing notices. But its reception was nothing compared to the skyrockets that have greeted Everyday. A slew of writers have declared it to be Matthews's finest outing by way of telling the tender tale of how a confused Dave overcame his creative block with the assistance of none other than super slickster Glen Ballard, the producer who gave the world (eeesh!) Alanis Morissette. Moreover, they've done it with the prose equivalent of a straight face. Who says music journalism isn't hard work?

Then again, Everyday probably is Matthews's best album to date (or at least his most tolerable one), and Ballard deserves praise for cutting way back on the tedious soloing and show-offy arrangements that made so many of the outfit's previous songs seem like a sorry variation on The NeverEnding Story. But that hardly makes the disc a tremendous achievement. Big Dave's much ballyhooed electric-guitar playing on the opener, "I Did It," will strike you as wild only if your idea of rock is the latest Steely Dan album, which makes the ditty's lyrical boasts ("Do you think I've gone too far?...Guilty as charged") seem that much more laughable. The same malady afflicts "When the World Ends," which juxtaposes a skittering verse with big chords intended to underline phrases such as "I'm gonna rock you like a baby when the cities fall." As earthquakes go, this one hardly causes the needle to twitch.

Matthews continues to display a significant Peter Gabriel jones, and he's comparatively effective here, whether he's aping Pete's mid-tempo drama mode ("The Space Between") or his punchy pop leanings ("So Right"). He's also got a nice self-deprecating streak: At one point, he finishes the thought voiced by the title "If I Had It All" with the confession "I'd fuck it up." And the social consciousness he expresses in "Mother Father" is admirable even though the words he chooses ("Mother, father, please explain to me/How a man who rocks his child to sleep/Pulls the trigger on his brother's heart") would sound hackneyed coming out of any mouth other than Marvin Gaye's.

Still, these modest attributes can't prevent the disc as a whole from seeming more than a little, well, boring. When heard in modest bites, Everyday is unobjectionable enough, but its secondhand musicality and standard-issue sentiments don't wear well -- which casts the superlatives the disc has collected in a much different light. If an album this average earns raves, you have to wonder if it's because we've lowered our standards to an extraordinary, indefensible degree, or because mainstream rock is lamer than ever?

The answer to those questions is "yes" and "yes."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts