Before These Crowded Streets

Dave Matthews Band

RCA Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: George Agnos


The Dave Matthews Band are one of pop music's biggest stars and yet one of its unlikeliest stars. I say this because their latest album, Before These Crowded Streets, shows a band with good musical chops, imaginative arrangements, and an indifference to writing "hit" songs. In a music scene where all the bands seem to sound like second rate versions of Pearl Jam, their popularity is quite an accomplishment.

But while there is a lot I admire about Before These Crowded Streets, the band somehow seem to miss the mark. There are definitely some impressive moments on this album musically, but the trouble is that in the end, the weak songwriting eventually sinks this release. A good example of the bridge between performance and songwriting is on "Rapunzel," which is a silly song that uses the fairy tale as a metaphor. But on the other hand, the band really cooks, with a great jazzy rhythm and some standout performances by Boyd Tinsley on violin and Leroi Moore on soprano sax.nbtc__dv_250

Most of the highlights of Before These Crowded Streets come early. The song "The Last Stop" is a moody piece with a Middle-Eastern flavor about hatred that may or not be directed at that part of the world. Showing off different styles musically, the bridge of this song brings a bluegrass element with help from guest banjoist Bela Fleck. The next song, the single "Don't Drink The Water" is also an intense number that could be a companion piece to "The Last Stop." It starts out slow until it builds to its riveting conclusion.

By this time, the second single, "Stay (Wasting Time)" comes as quite a relief as it is a light, catchy, R&Bish number. The laid-back fun of this song is short-lived as we get to "Halloween." Here, Matthews contorts his vocals in such a way that he sounds like he's auditioning for a heavy metal band. But this is not a metal song as guest musicians, the classical outfit, The Kronos Quartet, provide a string background, and Carter Beauford provides some caribbean-sounding precussion, giving the listener three-way musical whiplash.

If the second half of Before These Crowded Streets was anything like the first, this would be one hell of an album. But unfortunately, when The Dave Matthews Band settles into more traditional rock numbers, the weakness of the material is more evident. "Crush" has a slightly winning melody, but it is overlong and unfocused. "Pig" is even worse. This song is credited to the entire band and proves that too many cooks do spoil the broth. Not only is the song overlong, but it lacks form and melody, and its over-earnestness just becomes annoying.

Speaking of annoying, "Spoon" is a duet between Matthews and singer Alanis Morissette. Admittedly, both of these singers are an acquired taste and their combined efforts just do not gel well. Although it would have helped if the song was more inspired. "The Dreaming Tree" is the only song in the second half that shines. This is a quiet song reminiscent of one of Peter Gabriel's later recordings, and is a fine piece of songwriting by Matthews and bassist Stefan Lessard.

The Dave Matthews Band are dynamic performers and show a lot of imagination and versatility in combining different genres of music and making them work. But right now, that is about all they seem to have going for them. There are enough moments to give me hope that this band will improve, but for now, I consider Before These Crowded Streets a fascinating but flawed album.

Rating: C+

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© 1998 George Agnos 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 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.