Matt Nathanson is something of a paradox. He's a serial jokester who writes intensely touching songs. He's a radio-ready pop star who seems content having spent ten years under the radar. And while some might suggest that he "sold out" when releasing the robustly produced 2003 album Beneath These Fireworks (which didn't really sell, per se); true to this dual nature, his sound benefited from the move.
On his second major-label release, Some Mad Hope, Nathanson once again puts a fresh spin on the role of the archetypal pop rocker. As he once quipped in concert, his songs are about a bad relationship here, a bad relationship there, sex every so often, and a bad relationship thrown in for good measure. He packs the album with that same emotional weight. In the opener and first single, "Car Crash," he readies himself to put everything on the line but welcomes the hit he'll take for it. "Wedding Dress," a song made beautiful by the simplicity of the acoustic guitar that backs the verses, confronts the enduring love of a marriage with perpetual jealousy and discomfort towards commitment.
Though he is rightfully extolled for his solo concerts, Nathanson shines when backed by a full band. The second most radio-ready song on the album is "To the Beat of Our Noisy Hearts," a driving, singable song that begs to be a summer anthem. "Detroit Waves" is electric, calling you to bring the radio up to 11, roll the windows down, and very likely disobey the speed limit. Likewise, "Gone," presented as an unedited live in-studio recording, will not disappoint. In more intimate moments – "Come on Get Higher" and the album's closing tracks, "Sooner Surrender" and "All We Are" – Nathanson's often breathy tenor deftly leaps from full voice to falsetto, painting nicely over more muted instruments.
For anyone who has followed Nathanson for any period of time extending before the day when "Car Crash" hits radios early next week and the release of this album on August 14, asking whether Some Mad Hope is his best album is like asking to choose a favorite child. I found myself listening to Beneath These Fireworks after a few weeks of listening to Some Mad Hope nonstop, and I feel like the former is a stronger album beginning to end, even though the latter has better individual songs.
Nonetheless, Nathanson has offered an album so solid, so addicting, so enduring on repeat listens that will quickly become the soundtrack of your late summer. Whether you're cleaning around the house or lying on the beach, ending a relationship or pining over new love, Some Mad Hope will stay with you.