Fresh from part-inspiring the best character in “Parks & Recreation”…
Martin Skidmore: Proper adult soft-rock songwriting, the sort of thing Elvis Costello would do if he were a quarter as good, say. Exactly the kind of thing a cute male finalist with soft stubble might do on American Idol, and I’d be mystified at their continually getting through, or even winning.
Michaelangelo Matos: Congratulations, technology: now even a total turd like this one has “interesting sounds”. In the verses it’s a strange, enchanting guitar in the left channel that emulates a subdued organ. In the chorus it’s guitar phased through what I’m taking for chorus pedals that give them a nice bright color palette over headphones. Please, somebody put those things into a halfway decent song.
Hillary Brown: Those chimes are wonderful, but the rest of it is kind of pop country minus the sullen attitude.
Alfred Soto: The banjo in “Unwell”, the chorus verses on “Lonely No More”, the superior rewrite of Radiohead’s “There There” called “This Is How a Heart Breaks” — in the last five years Rob Thomas has proved he’s got an unconventional streak invisible during his Meatloaf-rock phase. Now that Brian Eno’s proved his Meatloaf-rock credentials producing the likes of Coldplay, he can give Thomas the burnish for which he so clearly yearns (the toy piano on this number would surely prick The Bald One’s ear). But Thomas still has that voice, which remains more blank than frank no matter how many tricks he can afford with his multiplatinum; and when he really wants to mean it, he still sings as if he’s chewing on diamonds.
Anthony Easton: Rob Thomas (and John Mayer) know that they need the blandness and heart felt emotion to get the love of the charts, but ambiguity and irony to get the hip kids in the back row. Thomas gets fairly close here to some golden middle of pop success and artistic love (c.f. Paul Simon), but sort of falls into meangingless come the third chorus. John Mayer has done much better at this game.
Chuck Eddy: He is quite respected industrywide, you know — by country people, r&b people, AC people, rock people, everybody. I actually like “Smooth,” and a couple Matchbox 20 hits. As for this new song, it seems to come with a story attached. A long one. If you can follow it, you’re better than I am. But Rob does manage a few nice soul inflections. And if his gospel choir isn’t “I Want To Know What Love Is,” well, what is?
Ian Mathers: Dealing with someone else’s depression isn’t a topic pop music tackles very often, let alone this honestly and sensitively, so points to Thomas there, as well as for the relatively good writing “Her Diamonds” displays (except for the damned titular metaphor, which is clumsy): I’m particularly fond of “she sits down and stares into the distance / and it takes all night”, which sounds like someone who’s been there. Thomas’ delivery is less annoying solo than with Matchbox 20 for some reason, and it also helps that he’s more willing to include small, interesting sonic touches that his incredibly bland main job doesn’t tend to allow for.
Martin Kavka: This entirely charmless song — even when the background singers begin to belt at the end — marks one further step into obscurity for Rob Thomas. Say hey to the members of Creed and Smash Mouth for me.