When Dave Matthews Band fans heard that producer Steve Lillywhite was out for the band's fourth CD, they were probably a little worried. After all, if it ain't broke... well, you know. Lillywhite helped DMB create one of the most distinctive sounds of the '90s -- and become one of the top grossing touring acts of the past five years. When first unleashed on the masses in 1994, their feel-good, funky, acoustic vibe offered up an exciting melting pot of sound -- and it was unlike anything else on the radio.
But when fans found out it was Glen Ballard who was replacing Lillywhite, maybe they were more hopeful. After all, Ballard is the guy who turned a singer nobody had ever heard of into the name on the third bestselling album of all time. On Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill, Ballard didn't just produce, he co-wrote much of the music. Which is just what he has done here on Everyday, DMB's highly anticipated new CD. The writing credit reads: "Words and music by David J. Matthews and Glen Ballard." Would this new hybrid approach change our beloved Dave Matthews Band? The answer is yes, and not for the better.
From the opening strum of the first cut, it's obvious that something is very different: Dave has discovered the electric guitar. And as you listen on, he just doesn't discover it -- he sticks with it almost exclusively until the final track, "Everyday." Now I suppose I would have been one of those who criticized Dylan when he first plugged in back at Newport, but the Dave Matthews Band without the trademark acoustic sound just isn't the Dave Matthews Band anymore. The electric sound also pushes the band's strengths -- like the saxophone and violin -- further out to the edges. The overall effect is that the band is now starting to sound a lot more like everything else on the radio.
Maybe collaborating doesn't agree with him, but Dave's lyrics on this CD are his weakest yet. While he is often picked on by music critics for his lyrics, he has penned some incredibly deep and touching words, on songs like "Cry Freedom" and "The Dreaming Tree." But his reputation as a purveyor of sexed-up, frat guy songs is only cemented by tunes like "When The World Ends," which essentially says that when the world is blowing up, he'll be having sex with his lover. "I'm gonna rock you like a baby when the cities fall/We will rise as the buildings crumble." What a stud! Then on "What You Are," he offers up this bit of pseudo-existentialism: "If you live life/Then you become what you are." Hmmm. Maybe you have to be stoned to get it.
Dave seems a bit unsure of where to go on this CD, as on one hand he wants to get louder by going electric, but this CD's best cuts are the mellow songs. "Sleep to Dream Her" is a haunting piece that showcases Dave's voice, which, like Dylan's, is an acquired taste to be sure. "Angel" and "The Space Between" also stand out.
But this is a Dave Matthews Band CD, and it certainly has its moments. Carlos Santana pays Dave (who appeared on Supernatural) back by ripping through "Mother Father," which, unlike the rest of the CD, does have lyrics that stand up to the best he has written. Unfortunately, beyond that and the mellow stuff, the remainder only hints at the aural glories of DMB's live shows and their previous recordings, like "Ants Marching," "Crush" and "Lie in Our Graves." Rumor has it that Dave prepared a whole batch of songs for Lillywhite, but shelved them when the band hired Ballard instead. Here's hoping that someday soon those songs get dusted off and we can get back to more of the good stuff.