From the mild success of Tabitha’s Secret, which formed in 1990 and was dissolved by ‘95, Rob Thomas has gone on to become a prolific, critically-recognized singer and songwriter, both with the enormous success of his band, Matchbox Twenty, and as a solo artist.
Matchbox formed in 1995 from the remnants of Tabitha’s Secret, melded together in the face of a new record deal with Atlantic by producer Matt Serletic. Some new blood was added to the band—Kyle Cook, the band’s guitarist—and their first record, the diamond-certified Yourself or Someone Like You was released in 1996, boasting chart-dominating tracks such as “Push” and “3 A.M.”
The album is full of classic ‘90s angst; driving grunge guitars, a healthy level of that grunge-certified vocal rasp, music videos featuring plentiful quantities of black eyeliner and leather pants, and powerful, explosive choruses. Where the two records released by Tabitha’s Secret felt tentative in their capacity to showcase Thomas’ songwriting ability, Yourself or Someone Like You revealed what a powerhouse of a singer and a songwriter Thomas was.
Before the release of the band’s sophomore effort, Thomas partnered up with Carlos Santana to co-write and sing on the chart-topping track ‘Smooth,’ further pushing Matchbox into the stratosphere.
Each of the three full-length studio albums that Matchbox Twenty has since released—2000’s Mad Season; 2002’s More Than You Think You Are; and 2012’s North, displayed markedly different takes on the pop-rock that the band has undeniably perfected, finding their sound through a combination of classic arena rock ‘n’ roll with a strong element of soul, blues, and meaningful, powerful lyrics.
Thomas released his first solo effort in 2005—Something To Be—and went on to release three more full-length solo albums, refining the heavier sound that Matchbox is known for and softening his guitars, adding in stronger elements of piano and a bit of synth. His latest solo work—2019’s Chip Tooth Smile—displayed for the first time a record that is more parts pop than rock, a strange reality for an artist who helped usher in the post-grunge scene of the early 2000s.
And though through the combined outlet of his band, solo, and collaborative efforts, Thomas has sold approximately 80 million records globally and has won three Grammy Awards, 11 BMI Awards, a Songwriters Hall of Fame Hal David Starlight Award, and two Billboard “Songwriter of the Year” honors, his best work, the 13-track collection that is undeniably Thomas at his very strongest is Matchbox Twenty’s Mad Season.
Despite the habit of the music industry to push successful artists to move quickly to release a second album if the first did well, Matchbox Twenty held off on their sophomore effort, releasing Mad Season four years after Yourself Or Someone Like You burst onto the scene.
And Mad Season was as different from the Matchbox sound as could have been imagined—the hard-edged, heavy grunge guitars were dialed back, replaced by a crisper, bluesier, subtler element. An orchestra and horn section were added into the lineup, helping to produce what can truly be described as an album that is recalcitrant with grandeur and truly soaring pop choruses. Yourself or Someone Like You, was a strong first album; Mad Season was an experiment; a combination of their driving rock feel and a more soulful presence, compounded and filled by a prevalent orchestra to produce something totally different and absolutely unique.
Lyrically, Thomas has always been on a high level. But musically, this album crafts perfectly coordinated tracks; there is such an attention to detail with this album—from the prevalence of the guitar to the rhythm or even sound of the drum kit; something about this record is powerful in its uniqueness. It is a record that has never been successfully replicated. It is the pinnacle of melodic pop rock.
‘Bent,’ the lead single from Mad Season, gives an angsty, different version of the standard love song, tied together with carefully interwoven guitar riffs and blues chords. This is not a mournful song about lost love anymore than it is a sappy song about found love—it is the narrator’s recognition of his own flaws, combined with a need for his partner to remain committed despite those flaws. The premise is one that is just more complex than the standard ‘love song’ iterations that are seen (or heard) so often in pop music.
Every track on Mad Season is filled with unique perspectives, intriguing riffs, complex stories, and a rhythm and drive that demands movement and sing-along.
Though the album didn’t perform quite to the level that Yourself or Someone Like You, did, it went 4x platinum and paved the way for the big, enormous, experimental sounds that Matchbox latched onto with their third album More Than You Think You Are.
And while Thomas has an impressive, critically acclaimed catalogue of music, Mad Season really features him and Matchbox Twenty at their strongest—bombastic, explosive and truly soulful.