Singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson isn’t afraid to share his feelings with you, for better or worse. Known for his platinum single “Come On Get Higher,” his blend of rock, folk, and pop, and his appreciation for all things pop culture (his last release was a Def Leppard tribute E.P. called Pyromattia), the San Francisco based artist has built a dedicated following over the past twenty-five years. He has continuously released albums every few years, supported acts like Train and the Fray in concert, and consistently sold out venues on his own headlining tours. His music is comprised of sincere lyrics backed by a blend of acoustic and electric guitar, trending more towards folk or pop depending on the mood he’s in.
Nathanson’s tenth album, Sings His Sad Heart, is exactly what it sounds like. As Nathanson explains on his website, the album is about breaking up with someone and “being the only one left hung up in the past.” The songs alternate between stream-of-consciousness reminiscing and one-sided conversations with an ex, be it a result of physical or emotional distance. There’s a noticeable lack of immediacy and devastation to be heard throughout the tracks, with Nathanson instead lamenting in a wistful tone, looking back at the relationship and exploring regrets.
The songs on Sings His Sad Heart move through the different phases of a breakup, describing emotional highs and lows. Opening track “Mine” handles regret (“All the ways I tried to run when you were mine”) with a soft pop sound; “Way Way Back” takes on jealousy (“I’m sure he’s easier than I was/If you like that sort of thing/He looks better with his shirt off, yeah, but can he sing?”); “Best Drug” gives a bright look about the elation of being in love with a rollicking beat that invites you to dance; and the Train-esque “Let You Go” takes care of longing (“If you see me smile it’s all pretend/The only reason I still call our friends/Is the chance that one of them will say your name”) with an epic quality. One of the strengths of Sings His Sad Heart is that while the songs on it are mostly about the emotional roller coaster of a breakup, the album itself doesn’t wallow in misery or bitterness.
Album highlights include “Different Beds,” a cinematic breakup song that runs through adventures they had together. With an opening line like “Do you remember when we met/The first thing that you said/‘I’m done with men/They all let me down,’” and electric guitar accents, this track sounds more like some of Nathanson’s older fare, perhaps even a response to his 2011 single “Modern Love.” The single “Used to Be” is also reminiscent of his past work. The chorus is catchy and memorable (“I’ve got a king-sized bed and a PhD in the way it used to be”) set against a pretty piano background. Besides being a standout on Sings His Sad Heart, it’s also one of Nathanson’s favorites: “When I recorded the demo for that song, we did that just piano and vocal. I remember driving around in a rental car in Los Angeles listening to it over and over, and it felt like it wasn’t me singing. It felt like I was listening to somebody else’s song, which never happens,” he explained to Digital Journals.
Unfortunately, Sings His Sad Heart ends up falling a little flat when compared to Nathanson’s past work. Show Me Your Fangs had the vivacious “Giants” along with power duet “Headphones,” and Modern Love’s titular track has an undeniable bounce to it. While Sings His Sad Heart has its bright points, the album doesn’t have tracks that really punch above the rest. Its even-keeled tone is good in that it avoids being maudlin, but it also means a lack of noticeable highs and lows, making for a less dynamic quality.
Sings His Sad Heart has a lot that people have come to love from Nathanson. His albums consistently deliver with honesty, catchy lyrics, and interesting guitar work. While the quiet, mellow tone to the album is missing the energetic bursts he’s had in the past, the listening experience is still very pleasant, if a little muted.