I have a complicated relationship with the band Matchbox 20.
I was raised in a cult, which meant that I wasn’t really connected to conventional pop-culture music until I turned about fifteen. Prior to that point, I was listening to mostly Christian praise music (which is worse than you think) and country music (which was, in the late 90s, also, worse than you think). I fell hard into ska fandom, music I listened to because Five Iron Frenzy, a Christian band, got me interested in the form, and which was an easy step. Plus, all the ska available at that point was intensely relatable: It was about being a fuckup who wasn’t over or was still in high school.
All My Best Friends Are Metalheads is a song that hit me in a personal space with an intensity that I don’t imagine anyone else hearing the song is ever going to suffer.
Anyway, this is also a point where the radio was populated with a wave of really wildly different one-hit-wonders as the musical landscape sorta kept trying everything. It was the era of the boyband, yes, the era of the Wholesome Britney Alternatives, but it was also a time where the charts tried Ricky Martin, T-Shirt, and as here in Australia is wont to do, a lot of novelty singles like You Shit Me To Tears. There were strata on the radio, and at the time, if you wanted, you could hear a single on the radio, then go to a musical store, where they had hammered that music into a flat disc. You bought the disk or more likely, listened to it in the store, and decided if you liked all the songs on it, and they’d be similar to the single.
I don’t know why I’m explaining this except to pad things out and maybe give you an idea of how I approached the alien idea of popular music radio.
Sometimes an album would be so good it got two or three songs on the radio, and once, I watched a late-night ‘oh this is interesting’ concert of a bunch of popular musicians and had a reaction like: why haven’t I heard this song on the radio?
The band was Matchbox 20, and the song was Girl Like That. A month later, that was the next single from that album.
And then everybody clapped me for having such good music brains.
Anyway, this wasn’t my first acquaintance with Matchbox 20 or even just an excuse to share an anecdote about how great I am at knowing good music, because the music I like is, of course, the best music. I already liked their albums, having listened to Yourself Or Someone Like You because a cute girl at school liked it and then listened to Mad Season because a cute girl at anime club liked it (or maybe my sister bought it first, I’m not sure) and then More Than You Think You Are because my wife and I bought it for my sister for her birthday. I like their stuff, and I have for a while.
The thing is, I went through two distinct phases of Matchbox 20 fandom; the first being that as a child, I listened to it and thought that it was very emotional music, about dudes singing about hurt feelings, but it all felt very artificial to me after a point. I mean, they’re just singing about bad relationships, and that’s…
I thought they were kind of a general emotionality and just generic sadness as expressed by Rob Thomas, who was very good at making that sound good, and I guess he was also annoyingly hot for the kind of guy he is (I mean, he was the closest 90s American pop was going to get to a fem look, and he did pave the way for a lot of emo looks to be more mainstream). But that was it: It was all very superficial and the songs, when you listened to the words, didn’t make much sense, but that was okay, because the songs were about making you feel things not think about how they made you feel.
Then as an adult, I came back to it. I think that it was around 2018 I really revisited the music, but when I did that, I did so with a lot more information about, amongst other things, mental health. Like did you know it was possible for, when someone is upset about something, to have two different mental modes about the thing? Shocking, I know! And maybe if someone says ‘I can’t get myself to go away,’ they might not be meaning literally, they want to travel but can’t motivate themselves, but they may mean something else there?
Matchbox 20 have all these songs that are about complicated, tangled, damaged relationships, and about them ending, or about them finding a way to work, and they’re all songs about managing with things like information processing problems. Or anxiety. Or panic attacks. Or about an inability to perceive what people are feeling if they don’t explicitly tell you. Or feelings of low self esteem.
I’m glad I didn’t forget about Matchbox 20 as I got older, but I wish I’d understood them even better when I was a kid.