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Rob Thomas - Something To Be Print E-mail
Tuesday, 19 April 2005

Rob Thomas

Something To Be
format: DualDisc
label: Atlantic Records
release year: 2005
performance: 5.5
sound 6.5
reviewed by: Paul Lingas

Image Something To Be, the first solo album from Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas, has been eagerly anticipated by fans of the singer and group, but keenly dreaded by many others. Let’s get it straight right now: Rob Thomas does not have a good singing voice. If there are two major things wrong with Matchbox 20, they are 1) the music and 2) the lead vocalist. Thomas does have a very distinctive and strong voice, but too often it is not suited to the surrounding music.

Self-described as someone who has struggled mightily with many things in his life, Thomas helped found the wildly successful Matchbox 20, a group that has wooed many millions of fans over the past eight years or so. Thomas is the main songwriter for the group, but he has also written for many other artists, most notably Carlos Santana, with whom his collaboration on Supernatural’s “Smooth” garnered Thomas three Grammy awards.

“Problem Girl,” somewhat odd lyrics aside, is a very accessible pop tune that has a fun acoustic guitar base that calls to mind mid-‘90s styles. “When the Heartache Ends” is another slow song that is mostly benign in its approach and execution and sounds good in the background. “Fallin’ to Pieces” is a tragedy, as is “My, My, My.” Self-indulgent to the extreme, one can only imagine fans at a Thomas concert who will flip open their cell phones and flick on their lighters as they rock back and forth to these calamitous sappy lyrics, vocals and musical arrangements.

“This is How a Heart Breaks” is very Thomas, but I find myself enjoying it. It is upbeat with a bit of a sneer exuding itself through both the lyrics and vocalizations. “Something To Be” again keeps things at a quick tempo, and the way Thomas’s vocals fluctuate and provide the main melody capitalizes on his vocal talents and penchant for sounding as if he’s either trying too hard to emote or singing from the back of his throat. “Lonely No More” is the “smash hit” from the album, though it seems like an amalgamation of Latin pop and not very effective Caribbean-influenced music. With this track, Thomas seems to be trying too hard musically. Clearly he has many influences, but the execution of his own takes on these influences is often lacking. It’s too bad this is the first single released, because in many ways it’s the weakest track on the album. “All That I Am” also focuses too much on Thomas’ penchant for whining his way through his vocals; by sounding strong at one moment and breathy the next, the tonality is often lost in the spaces between his vocal folds and tongue. There is a difference between using emotion in one’s singing and shameless indulgence in one’s own voice and ability to manipulate it.

At best, Something To Be is a mixed bag, with some surprisingly good offerings and some duds that sadly aren’t surprising. Not even the guest presence of John Mayer on “Streetcorner Symphony” can help entirely.

By having good music surrounding his vocals, Thomas and producer Matt Serletic (who has also produced Matchbox 20) more effectively blend in the strengths of Thomas’s voice with other sounds. Unfortunately, this is not done very often. Though the DVD-A portion of the disc sounds good in terms of clarity, the overall sound score above reflects the poor mixing and sometimes odd producer decisions.

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