Arts, Music, Review

Matt Nathanson Misses Mark in ‘Sings His Sad Heart’

Matt Nathanson: You might remember him as a one-hit wonder of the 2000s. Or perhaps you’re inclined to forget those years, and you experience some semblance of recognition reading his name as you try to forget the awful pre-teen you were in 2007. Either way, odds are—if you listened to the radio that year—you’ve heard his song “Come On Get Higher.” You might even recognize his lesser-known top-100 track, “Faster.”

On that note, don’t expect the same acoustic guitar-, Jason Mraz-vibe that his songs had in the 2000s with this new album. This record speaks with that new, weird, popular voice that’s of an indefinable genre, trying to merge electronic, pop, folk, and R&B with synthesizers, acoustic guitars, and a noticeably strong rhythm—think Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands.” Still, since he’s been releasing music, Nathanson’s sound has constantly evolved. His first album, Please, exudes that grungy ’90s gloom with acoustic guitars and whining vocals that echo the decade’s popular bands, like Oasis and Barenaked Ladies. In the mid- to late-2000s, when acoustic music started gaining some traction again (this time, however, with an optimistic tone), the Massachusetts native hopped on the soft-pop train and rode it straight to his popular success as a musician. Now, having lost that brief moment of popularity, he continues to transform his sound so that it reflects the time’s popular music.

About a week ago, Nathanson’s team released a preview of the album Sings His Sad Heart with a five-track EP featuring its two highlighted songs, “Mine” and “Used to Be.” While “Mine” has a really catchy chorus, it lacks depth, as many of the other songs also do. The lyrics are really repetitive. The track is supposed to be the upbeat hit of the album, and I guess it could be, in a really low-key way. None of the songs on this album, however, could accurately be described as “upbeat.” And considering its general theme, a mildly melancholic tone makes sense.

The album cover depicts a lonely Nathanson carrying a megaphone as he walks away, down the middle of a residential street. The entire background is tinted an artificial pink, and, overhead, “Matt Nathanson” is scrawled on the sky in white font, acting as the subject of the sentence’s predicate that is the album’s title, Sings His Sad Heart, which is printed on the back of his jacket. In its entirety, the album doesn’t really lend itself to any intense emotional connection with the listener. The lyrics offer a disconnect with the music, which establishes a mellow vibe that makes the tracks easy to hear, but—considering the words—awkward to listen to.

Although forcedly sappy, the album’s title is indicative of the inspiration behind this album—heartbreak and the bittersweet memories of love lost. Nathanson’s lyrics might not be the most profound, and they often don’t seem to fit with the tone of any track on the album, but many of his verses recall vivid memories of the relationship that was important enough for him to write 10 songs mourning its loss.

There’s an indefinite amount of vulnerability in releasing so many songs about the end of a long relationship, especially songs that illustrate such vivid memories. It feels like an invasion of privacy—like you, as a listener, are occupying a space in which so much intimacy was shared, and it was never intended for you. As Nathanson includes family members in his memories, his album brings forth these feelings even more so, whether he’s on the phone with his sister (“Mine”), “borrowing” his ex-girlfriend’s brother’s car (“Different Beds”), or fighting with his father (“Used to Be”). He misses his mark, however, with these idiosyncrasies: They make his lyrics clunky and disrupt the lighthearted flow of his easygoing pop songs.

Shifting gears, maybe he’s trying to channel the success of “Come On Get Higher,” or maybe he really an affinity for getting high, but, either way, the general theme of “getting high[er]” makes its way into many of these new tracks, including “Different Beds,” “Best Drugs,” and “Sadness.” Although he doesn’t always use the turn of phrase in reference to a high from drugs, it happens in a couple songs—the implication is definitely there. Every mention of the phrase inevitably hints at the physical state of being high and also recalls his first hit (song, that is).

Nathanson is an experienced musician—he’s been releasing music for 25 years and hasn’t stopped yet. I’d say he knows what he’s doing. Maybe it seems inauthentic that he changes his sound so much, but then again, so does Taylor Swift, and she experiences great success and maintains her loyal fan base with every album. He may just be in it for the success, but, considering his musical history, I’d say he just wants to make music, particularly popular music. Nathanson never had immense recognition. He had a couple hits, and they were good, but he pretty much disappeared soon after they left the charts. The tracks in Sings His Sad Heart are catchy and trendy, just like “Come On Get Higher” and “Faster” were when they came out, but the quality isn’t quite there anymore. These songs sound too familiar, even during that initial listen, to remember them after they end.

Featured Image by Acrobat Records

October 6, 2018

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