Matchbox twenty drops another album today, North. It's actually been sample-streaming on iTunes for a while. I don't personally use iTunes -- my computer hates it with a passion, and I find its UI to be something like playing the slowest, jerkiest, most candy-colored game of Whack-A-Mole ever -- but I know people who do, and one of them was kind enough to let me have a listen until such time as they will take my money via Amazon.

I have fond memories of these guys. I went to school during that era where "alternative rock" meant "wailing atonally over something that was not quite a rock backing". Sheryl Crow, artistically talented though she may be, drives me up the wall -- she never sounds quite on-pitch. It's torture. Alanis Morisette wasn't any better. My bedroom and my sister's room shared a wall, and my sister made it a habit to collect either "music by people who screeched uncontrollably" or "music by people who shouted profanity over a very loud bass beat". She did at some point bring home some Melissa Etheridge and Mariah Carey, but I can only guess these were purchased by accident, because they were quickly abandoned on the family CD rack in the living room. I walked off with one of the three or four pairs of studio-quality headphones that my mother had accumulated and then replaced on a whim, and made it a point to wear them whenever my sister turned her stereo up.

One day, and I have no idea where she got this, my sister brought home a copy of yourself or someone like you. I can only assume she did it because they managed to get no less than four tracks off that one album on the radio as singles -- if you were aware of pop music in the mid-nineties, you can probably recognize "Push", "Real World", "Long Day", and "3am". I really hope they enjoy that last one, because their lead singer has been singing it for twenty years -- since he was in the band before matchbox twenty -- and is probably going to have people clamoring for it for another fifty years hence.

First, my mother swiped it from my sister. Then my sister swiped it back. This continued for a while until I ganked it, and since I used headphones, nobody knew I had it. This kind of strangely universal appeal probably explains how they managed to sell ten million copies. If I ever get anybody's attention over Twitter, I'm going to have to ask them what the hell the record company gives you when your album goes diamond -- I have some vague awareness that they still spray paint a copy of your magnum opus and mount it on a plaque for gold, but I'm thinking a CD dipped in glitter is not really a very dignified reward for lobbing yourself into the same category as Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney with your first commercial release.

They've been kind of crazy popular since. Moggie, who was but a larval media consumer when their first album came out, reports with a nerdy sort of pride that "Unwell" was the very first MP3 she ever downloaded.

The lead singer, Rob Thomas, is one of those people I have opinions on. I like him -- it's kind of hard to dislike a guy who spends most of his free time with his dogs and other assorted critters. He doesn't have a whole huge amount of Serious Public Politics, but his favorite general social causes are animal rescues and something I can sum up mostly as "WTF? Why are we hating on weird kids and gay people? I thought we had a society here?" It usually causes a couple seconds of cognitive dissonance when people realize he comes from the poorest part of conservative, gun-totin', family-feuding trailer park country in Appalachia, but there's a lot of other stuff -- the fact that he dropped out of high school to pursue music; that he escaped to first Florida and then all the way to upstate New York; a huge amount of stuff in his lyrics -- that make me suspect very strongly that he pretty much got it in the neck as a kid, and rebelled by becoming an intelligent, socially-aware, civilized human being.

Another one of his more personal causes is awareness of autoimmune diseases. His wife, Marisol, has lupus or something like it, and they went through a long, miserable time together before she was properly diagnosed and treated. There are still good times and bad, although so far he's managed to at least salvage art from the bad ones; "Her Diamonds", from his solo album cradlesong, is probably the example brought up most, but there are others.

Interviews are interesting. If you ask for one guy from matchbox twenty, you get Thomas; if you ask for two, you get Thomas and Paul Doucette, who used to play the drums and now plays pretty much anything he wants. (Doucette also has a solo album out, inexplicably called Milk the Bee and credited to a band called The Break And Repair Method, of which he is the only permanent member; it is entirely made of very peppy, cheery, sarcastically acidic uptempo piano pop. It's a very good representation of his personality. Anyone who's heard it will be completely unsurprised that he wound up marrying one of Frank Zappa's kids.) There's a reason they come as a set. Thomas is sometimes very enthusiastic about everything and sometimes spends a great deal of time staring at his shoes. On days when he's not much inclined to talk, Doucette talks for him, and I would guess has been doing that since they were together in Tabitha's Secret, the band before matchbox twenty. The two of them are no less synchronous in this even after both getting married and moving to totally different parts of the country and only getting together again when it's time to record another album. They'll probably be doing it for all eternity.

The new matchbox twenty album can be ordered here. Their previous three studio albums are yourself or someone like you, Mad Season, and More Than You Think You Are; they've also got a greatest hits + original EP called Exile on Mainstream. Rob Thomas has released two solo albums, Something to Be and cradlesong, and Paul Doucette has put out Milk the Bee. They've all got fan pages, which you can find with Google, and Thomas has a Twitter feed that's often strangely hilarious ("I just met the drunkest man ever in the airport. He was nice.") All of them technically have access to the band account, but the only two I really see get personally chatty on there are Thomas and Doucette; if you check the source sig, Thomas is the one tweeting from a Blackberry, and Doucette from an iPhone.

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