Matthew Good

Hospital Music

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The unvarnished title of Matthew Good's third solo album refers to the circumstances preceding the writing and recording of this 2007 set. In the summer of 2006, following a divorce and a growing period of emotional instability, Good attempted suicide via an overdose of sleeping pills and was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. All of this severe emotional trauma colors the dark and vulnerable-sounding Hospital Music, but in a way that's encouragingly lacking in self-exploitation. Rather than directly addressing his personal details in the lyrics, most of these 15 songs are oblique character studies like "Girl Wedged Under the Front of the Firebird," a brief interlude for backwards guitars and tortured lyrics with an unexpected resemblance to late-era Radiohead, and the nine-and-a-half-minute multi-part opener, "Champions of Nothing," which sets out the album's themes of betrayal (of self and others) in lyrics as impressionistic as the music. Though occasional lines seem likely to directly address elements of Good's personal life, Hospital Music is not the sort of album that requires all the gossip and back story to truly understand; indeed, the most emotionally direct song on here, "99% of Us Is Failure," is addressed to a grieving friend, and that outward orientation -- also seen on songs like the politically minded "Born Losers" and the comparatively upbeat "I'm a Window" -- keeps Hospital Music from becoming a protracted wallow. Good also includes a pair of unexpectedly brilliant covers, a complete transformation of the Dead Kennedys' "Moon Over Marin" into an unexpectedly lovely acoustic tune and a tender, honest take on Daniel Johnston's wistful "True Love Will Find You in the End," to close the set. Not easy listening by a long shot, Hospital Music repays close listening through its creation of a consistent mood of unease, leavened only slightly by Good's melodic gifts.

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