Matt Nathanson

Some Mad Hope

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Singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson has been playing the college circuit for quite a few years now, impressing coeds with his energetic live show (which often includes a collection of well-known covers) and heartfelt guitar playing. So those already enamored of Nathanson should have no reason for complaint on his second major-label release -- and sixth overall -- Some Mad Hope. The same themes he's dealt with on his previous albums -- regret and desire, roughly -- are here, the same sentimental lyrics and sweet descriptions of past loves, presented in major keys and with clean production. It's typical stuff but it's done well, mixed so Nathanson's emotive voice comes through clearly. But for these same reasons, those unfamiliar with the musician's repertoire may be unimpressed by his overall ordinariness. His melodies, his lyrics, and his arrangements are hard to distinguish from all the Howie Days, Jason Mrazs, Mat Kearneys, and Ari Hests out there. While Nathanson occasionally has a good line or two ("September took the tourists and settled in for good/We could hear the trains again/Brooklyn girls in scarves"), his lyrics neglect subtlety and nuance completely, opting instead for the obvious and straightforward. Not that everything needs to be shadowed in gray and distant allusions, but yet another "Come on and drive me wild" or "I want to be somebody else" is boring and unoriginal and gets lost in the immense pile of clich├ęs, limiting the album's reasons to be listened to. There are a few bits that stand out (the stripped-down "Bulletproof Weeks," the interesting emotional semi-detachment of "Gone"), but most of Some Mad Hope is inoffensive and unremarkable -- certainly not bad, but only good enough to satisfy longtime fans and not win any new ones.

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