You’ve got to give John Mayer props if for nothing else than re-opening the door for sensitive yet somewhat witty dudes with guitars who play appealing/hooky pop/rock. One guy who’s benefited from the Guitar Dude Renaissance (which has actually been happening for a decade now…geez, time flies) is singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson. Having recorded since the mid Nineties, Nathanson got his break big with the song “Come On Get Higher”, featured on his 2007 album Some Mad Hope. A few key TV placements came along in the same general time period, and before you knew it, Hope had sold over 300,000 copies and Nathanson was officially on the pop culture radar.
Four years later, Nathanson has returned with Modern Love, and even though our hopes that the title track would be a cover of the David Bowie song (it’s not), the end result is an impeccably crafted album with solid songwriting, an almost illegal number of hooks (seriously, I can hear the vast majority of tracks here being spread all over Adult Top 40 radio like jam on a slice of white bread) and surprisingly little stunt casting. Country duo Sugarland (featuring scenery-chewing vocalist Jennifer Nettles) appears on “Run”, and that’s the only big-name guest appearance. What’s left is all Matt, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
For an acoustic guitar-toting dude, Nathanson is surprisingly versatile. First single “Faster” will get you up and moving even as you realize how similar parts of it sound to George Michael’s “Faith”, he unleashes a sweet falsetto on “Drop to Hold You”, and the seductive “Kiss Quick” has a rakish kind of charm to it. “Love Comes Tumbling Down” and “Room at the End of the World” both do the soft intro/loud (and big) chorus thing that Coldplay does so well, and his “Mercy” beats the pants off of Duffy’s “Mercy” (even though, again, the two songs sound kind of similar…this can’t just be me hearing this.)
We all know that the whole dude singer/songwriter deal isn’t for everyone (when I was in the midst of my Mayer-induced mania a decade ago, I got plenty of tut-tuts, only for all the critics to eat their words when Continuum came out), but I feel like there’s enough good singin’ and playin’ on Modern Love to satisfy fans of the genre. While four years between albums seems like an unnecessarily long gap these days, Nathanson’s latest has enough strong material to keep the momentum built up from his last album going.
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