Stand Up

Dave Matthews Band

RCA, 2005

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Note to Dave: I give up.

The Dave Matthews Band's 1994 major-label debut Under The Table And Dreaming remains one of my favorite discs of the '90s, an album full of fuel-injected, charismatic world-pop, brilliant musicianship melding with strong melodic hooks and dramatic soundscapes. Crash was a damn good follow-up, even if it sometimes sounded suspiciously like a remake of Table.

And it's all been downhill from there. Before These Crowded Streets was a meandering, self-indulgent mess. Everyday ditched 90% of what made the DMB special (i.e. the exotic instrumentation and unpredictable musical left turns). Busted Stuff had some good material but sounded to me like Matthews was going through the motions as a vocalist, and 2003 solo outing Some Devil was a languid bore.

Steady touring and a truckload of live issues only reinforce the sense that, while they are to this day an effective musical force on stage, the Dave Matthews Band was over as a creative unit in roughly 1997. The group's newest studio effort does nothing to disprove this thesis.

On the contrary, Stand Up is a sorry mishmash of half-formed ideas and musical dead ends. Matthews -- who has often struggled with lyrics -- turns in his most lackluster, disjointed set ever here, and the band itself appears splintered. It's almost always a sign of complicated internal politics when the songwriting credits on every track go to the entire group, especially when it's apparent this is a convenient fiction. (It's hard to imagine what saxophone player Leroi Moore could have contributed to the four tracks here on which he doesn't play a single note; the same goes for the two on which violinist Boyd Tinsley is similarly absent.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

We've seen this before on Everyday, where Matthews hooked up with a producer who ended up simultaneously dominating the album and not knowing what to do with Tinsley and Moore. Here the culprit is Mark Batson, who follows in Glen Ballard's footsteps, polishing the band -- one of the great live units on earth -- into sleek, moribund dullness. (In addition to largely sidelining Moore and Tinsley, Batson and Matthews seem to have held Carter Beauford, the DMB's brilliant drummer, in a virtual straightjacket of simple, subdued beats. It's like hiring Jimi Hendrix to play rhythm guitar on an Elton John album; they might as well have used a beat box for half these tracks.)

In the end there are exactly four songs worth a repeat listen on this entire 14-track album, and one of them makes me angry almost every time I hear it. Featured cut "American Baby" is the equivalent of "Vertigo" off U2's almost-as-disappointing How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb -- a calculatedly hooky and energetic first single that's thoroughly unrepresentative of the album it's been cynically shoehorned into. This is classic bait-and-switch marketing; I bet the A&R guys loved it.

The other worthwhile tracks here -- "Dreamgirl," "Stand Up" and "Stolen Away On 55th & 3rd" -- are modestly entertaining shadows of past glories. "Dreamgirl" harks back to "Lover Lay Down" and "When The World Ends" with its sultry rhythms and sensuous urgency, and lets Moore decorate the bridge and outro with alluring sax fills. "Stand Up" is a lyrically simple but musically rousing political anthem with a limber electric lead, hiccupping beat and full employment of Moore and Tinsley for musical texture. "Stolen Away" finds Matthews in sweetly pleading mode and generates some tension and interest even as it reminds you of three or four similar efforts from past discs.

The rest of the album is a blur of underdeveloped songs ("Smooth Rider," "Out Of My Hands"), trite lyrics ("Steady As We Go" strings the clichés together like popcorn), embarrassing missteps (Matthews' weird vocal gymnastics on the chorus to "Louisiana Bayou" are the stuff of Golden Throats outtakes) and tired retreads (Matthews' death obsession is back yet again on the strangely passionless "You Might Die Trying"). The closing "Hunger For The Great Light" combines all of the above into a toxic brew of sophomoric lyrics, discordant harmonies and an "arrangement" that has about as much flow as a train wreck. As the lowlight of the DMB's worst studio album to date, it's a standout.

The Dave Matthews Band contains so much collective musical talent among its five members that you have to believe they still have a great album of new material in them somewhere. After another swing-and-a-miss outing like Stand Up, though, you start to wonder if it's ever going to come.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2005 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA, and is used for informational purposes only.