By Molly Segers
Matt Nathanson’s, Last of the Great Pretenders, his eighth studio album, packs all of the acoustic love songs, visual lyrics, sprinkled with dancy moments we’ve come to love and expect from him and polishes it up into a crisp classic pop record, complete with some handclaps and “ooh-oohs”. All of this comes together to make the soundtrack to a sunny summer afternoon spent wandering around his adopted home town of San Francisco.
Best of all, it’s completely devoid of Sugarland!
Generally Nathanson gets (unjustifiably) lumped in with the John Mayers and Jason Mrazs of the world. 2011’s Modern Love started a turn, but this record sounds like it might be what finally breaks that image. Where previous records could be heard as designed to makes girls swoon and for dudes to tune out, this record might just shut up the naysayers that write him off.
This pop sensibility comes courtesy of producer Mike Viola, who in addition to his own musical projects has worked with Gin Wigmore, Rachael Yamagata, Mandy Moore, and New Politics, and is arguably best known as the voice of The Wonders in That Thing You Do. He brings his distinctly pop sensibilities to the record and Viola fans can hear his fingerprints all over the songs, right down to some of the lyrical inflection.
Viola’s mark can most clearly be heard on album opener “Earthquake Weather,” first single “Mission Bells,” “Kill the Lights,” and “Kinks Shirt”. They all have of the bounce, harmonies, and “ah-ahh’s” and “ooh-ooh-oohs” that are his trademark of his perfect pop songs. And I should point out, when I say pop I’m not talking Bieber. He evokes images of the bands that inspired the film that gave Viola his break.
That said, this is still very much a Matt Nathanson record. His incredibly vivid lyrics don’t so much make mini movies in your mind as make memories that never happened. You see the girl in the Kinks shirt (“Kinks Shirt”). You are talking under the Golden Gate Bridge (“Annie’s Always Waiting”). You watch fireworks on the beach (“Earthquake Weather”). Best of all, you smell the old books and bins of records (“Last Days of Summer in San Francisco” & “Kill the Lights”). And you remember them all fondly.
Want to experience all of this in three and a half minutes? An album preview is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OE7F-TnAW8
Category: CD Reviews