Dave Matthews Band’s studio album disappoints
Album Review | 2.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 01:09
With over 11.6 million tickets sold over the past decade, Dave Matthews Band (DMB) is the most successful touring act of the past decade. Thanks to its dynamic live shows, the group enjoys a reputation as a powerhouse on the concert circuit.
Unfortunately, DMB’s studio compositions often fail to stack up to the band’s fully fleshed−out and energetic live counterparts. The group successfully captured some of this energy on their 2009 album “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King,” a tribute to late band member LeRoi Moore. DMB’s eighth studio album, “Away from the World,” the band’s fourth album to be produced by fan favorite Steve Lillywhite, has many moments that match the highs of the band’s previous works, but directionless lyrics and forgettable melodies still drag it down.
“Away from the World” starts out promisingly enough with its opener “Broken Things.” The mid−tempo opening track launches with a powerful guitar riff soon joined by horn players Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross. After it gains momentum, the sound becomes more subdued to make room for lead singer Dave Matthews’ vocal lines. Matthews earnestly sings about preserving love in the face of an uncertain world: “The stars shine down from the black/ And we’re picking through this broken glass/ Well how could we know our lives would be/ So full of beautifully broken things.” Melodic violin lines and saxophone riffs weave around and throughout the verses in a manner reminiscent of the early DMB classic “Rapunzel,” and they create a welcoming introduction to the album.
The brassy up−tempo song “Belly Belly Nice” follows the opening track, and it perfectly captures the interplay between band members that is a hallmark of the DMB sound. A funky bass line anchors the playful song while violinist Boyd Tinsley weaves a solo between punctuating horn blasts. The album then switches gears with the anthemic “Mercy.” Matthews begins the song whispering and gradually grows louder as the song crescendos and gains new layers of instrumentation.
“Mercy” also highlights one of the album’s weaknesses. Matthews’s lyrics occasionally strive to be socially conscious, but they instead offer little more than cliches. Matthews pleads for listeners to take action to change our world, but doesn’t come up with any lyrics more meaningful than “Stand up for where we need to be/ ‘Cause crying won’t save or feed a hungry child.” This flaw repeats in the song “Gaucho’s” repeated chorus, “We gotta do much more than believe/ If we wanna see the world change.” In the album’s only cringe−worthy moment, a children’s choir sings that line towards the end of the song.
Some of the following tracks on the album highlight the other main issue plaguing “Away from the World” — a slew of plain, forgettable melodies. The restrained instrumentation that DMB employs on the album benefits certain songs — for example, the slow buildup works on “Mercy.” But more often than not, this demonstrated restraint renders some tracks, such as “Sweet” and “If Only,” nearly forgettable.
In spite of these shortcomings, the album contains many moments with awe−inspiring instrumental passages and melodies that reinforce DMB’s renown as a musically cohesive group. A high point in any DMB album is the way its complex instrumental parts fit together, and “Away from the World” is no exception. The penultimate track, “Snow Outside,” starts off relatively simply, but then transitions into an instrumental outro that grows increasingly complex as more instruments join the mix. The outro rapidly becomes a frenzied instrumental section that transitions into the closing track, “Drunken Soldier.”
Clocking in just shy of 10 minutes, “Drunken Soldier” contains one of the most impressive and powerful instrumental intros the band has ever recorded. Interlocked acoustic guitar parts quickly give way to a blaring horn riff that increases in urgency with each repetition. Drummer Carter Beauford holds together the complicated passage with polyrhythmic percussion. All of the song’s pent−up urgency is diffused by a single violin melody, although the tune quickly shifts gears and quickly builds up again. These combined effects make for a stunning introduction on par with some of the band’s best from their 21−year career.
While “Away from the World” offers some well−crafted songs and incredible instrumental work, a lack of memorable melodies and sometimes cliched lyrics prevent it from being ranked alongside DMB’s best albums.