I haven’t spent that much time with this album, but I felt an overwhelming need to do a review. I’m predicting that this will be one of the most underrated albums of the year. The reason I say that is that you could easily listen to this album five times and think to yourself that it is just another standard pop album to be lost and forgotten among the hundreds that come out every year. The purpose of this review is to explain some of the subtleties that make it much more than that.
First off, let’s place the album in context. It really is necessary. Matt Nathanson on every album he has every released has been the most optimistic, hopelessly romantic songwriter you will ever find. I could be having the worst day of my entire life, and there is one thing I can always rely on: popping in Some Mad Hope will instantly make me feel exceedingly happy to be alive.
The song “Lucky Boy” contains the lyrics “They tell me it’s a cruel world that I’ve found/It’s a cruel world and I’m a lucky boy.” The song “Come on Get Higher” has the chorus “Come on get higher loosen my lips faith and desire and the swing of your hips just pull me down hard and drown me in love.” In “Heartbreak World” he says “In this heartbreak world where nothing matters C’mon lets make this dream thats barely half awake come true.”
Really. You have to believe me. If there is a person that is endlessly optimistic about the possibility of true love, it is him. Let’s start with the title of this new album. It is called Modern Love. One might guess that it will be more of the same. Very quickly you learn it isn’t. This is basically a subtley constructed concept album. It sounds like a bunch of disjoint songs, but really it is basically like a bunch of connected diary entries.
The songs all have to do with a single topic. He has given up on love. Instead he has replaced it with this new idea of “modern love”. This is basically the idea that all that exists are quick hookups and nothing that lasts. Love is a thing of the past. The only thing that exists nowadays is modern love. This shift is really shocking in context. It makes this often upbeat album quite depressing when you really listen to what’s going on.
The greatness and subtelty to this album is the fact that he is trying to put on a happy face and make his songs sound happy and uplifting just like his old ones. Most people that listen to this will undoubtedly come to the conclusion that it is just the same old stuff. But the lyrics are these profound struggles where he starts to fall for someone and he has to remind himself that he can’t let that happen. Love is not what is wanted in today’s world and he has to stamp it out in place of modern love before he lets his feelings take over too much. He has to be satisfied just with superficial quick relationships. This may sound like some cheap emo type stuff, but really it is spectacularly done.
Let’s take a few of the songs one by one and see how it manifests itself. “Love Come Tumbling Down” I think the title says it all, but here is part of it “Cities made of stone sinking in the flood All the people wait around to rust And all the stars above our heads Faster they came, faster they went … Love comes tumbling down.” I think it is pretty clear that cities sinking and people rusting is a reference for how much he believes love being a thing of the past is damaging civilization and people.
In “Room @ the End of the World” he says “I let go of love once it finally had me figured out … Sad can’t catch me Call me baby now When it’s all I used to believe.” He is admitting here that it he has let go of love, but it was all he used to believe. In “Modern Love” he explains the concept “And so we stumble and disconnect
Over and over again This modern love is not enough She said, “watch your back I’m nobody’s girlfriend.” He is connecting and unconnecting with girls, but none of them want to be called girlfriend. He still believes that modern love is not enough, and that is the struggle of the album. Despite believing this he has come to believe also that modern love is all there is.
“Kiss Quick” is probably my favorite song on the album. It is the most moving to me. “Kiss quick, I got a line out the door who all think they can save me. One by one they lay the world at my feet, one by one they drive me crazy. Shut your mouth, pull me out before this all goes grey. One by one they lay the world at my feet, one by one they go away.” He apparently has people in his life trying to pull him out of this slump that he’s in. They think they can save him. But he sees that it isn’t real. They come and then they go away not really willing to do the work to pull him out of it and teach him that love is real.
I’ll just do one more song. In “Kept” he says “I should have kept my head I should have kept my arms inside I believe it now I should have kept my head I should have kept my heart, my heart.” This song is absolutely tragic. He was warned not to fall for someone. It happened anyway. He couldn’t help it. The song is about how he should have kept everything to himself. He was warned. Why would he think this person was different and wanted something more than modern love?
I could keep going on, but I think you see my interpretation of the album. Once you come to the realization, you won’t be able to listen to a single song without hearing that this is what it is really about. The album is so intimate and personal. It is like reading a diary of someone’s transformation from eternal optimist about love to someone who doesn’t even believe love exists anymore. It is utterly fantastic. I have to end by reminding you that if this sounds like too depressing of music to you, he is keeping the same feel of his optimist music from the past.
Most people listening to this may miss the lyrics and think it is just happy pop music, so it is quite upbeat stuff. There are huge climaxes with lines like “I’m so amazing when I’m around you.” These are moments in his life where he has glimpses that love might still be possible, of course the song still ends with it being false. Maybe I’m completely insane and this isn’t at all what the album is about, but I’m still naming it most underrated of the year anyway. It has caused me great amounts of emotion and contemplation. I’m fascinated to see if his next album is back to his usual self showing this really was a temporary slump, or if he just has a new permanent attitude towards love and life.