Rob Thomas, frontman for matchbox twenty, returns with his sophomore effort, Cradlesong. It’s the follow-up to his 2005 multi-platinum solo debut, … Something to Be. Never one to shy away from tough emotions, the Grammy-winning author of such matchbox hits as “Bent,” “Unwell,” “Angry,” “Disease” and “Downfall” continues to explore—and at times brood over—life’s inevitable difficulties.
Rob Thomas’ wife, Marisol, suffers from a crippling autoimmune disorder. And according to the singer, at least one song, “Her Diamonds,” is a tribute to her resolve as she fights to lead a normal life. Thomas longs to help but often feels helpless. Despite the tears she sheds, the track ends on an upbeat note (“She’ll be all right/Just not tonight”). Several other songs reference a couple struggling to deal with circumstances beyond their control (“Natural,” “Snowblind,” “Cradlesong”). On these tracks, Thomas talks about protecting and reassuring the woman he loves, as well as the importance of facing our fears and trying to live courageously even when we don’t have all the answers. “Fire on the Mountain” protests the horror of war and the effects that it has on refugees (including mothers and children) who are forced to flee. The song pulls no punches, asking, “How do you drink when there’s blood in the water?”
The title track eschews shallow celebrity culture. “Someday” counsels trading emotional aloofness for telling the truth. That track also concludes with a reminder to pay attention to the good stuff in life (“Sometimes we don’t really notice/Just how good it can get”). “Hard on You” involves a self-absorbed man apologizing and asking forgiveness for treating a woman poorly (“I didn’t mean to be mean when I said all the things I said to you”). And on “Mockingbird,” a man desperately longs for one last shot at making a broken relationship work.
Easily the most problematic lyric here can be found on “Still Ain’t Over You,” in which the song’s narrator says he used casual sex to numb the ache of a failed romance: “I’ve been sleeping around/But I still ain’t over you.” We hear something similar on “Give Me the Meltdown” where a guy prefers to keep sleeping with someone he knows is about to exit his life (“Just lay down here close to me/Pretend you’re never leaving me”). His lover in that song also lies to escape tricky social situations and is in denial when it comes to her addictions. “Getting Late” reflects on the inevitability of death, but ends with advice that’s none too helpful: “Get your kicks while you can/Then go to work to pay the man.” The singer’s outlook on “Real World ’09” is pretty grim, as Thomas laments the ongoing presence of unnamed struggles in his life (“I think it’s over but it’s every day and/It’s a pretty fine mess I’m starting to make”). Two tracks include the word “h—.”
At his best, Rob Thomas stoically stands next to a woman he loves and looks the tough stuff in the face. In less courageous moments, though, the singer’s responses to pain aren’t nearly as admirable. They range from nursing a general sense of futility to using casual sex as a painkiller. “There’s always heartbreak,” Rob Thomas sings on “Still Ain’t Over You.” Those lyrics from Cradlesong definitely capture the feel of this melancholy disc.
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