Matchbox Twenty – “Bent”

Released: 7.4.01

Peak: #1

In 2000, Matchbox 20 celebrated its newfound success by renaming itself matchbox twenty. I’ve yet to hear an explanation for this momentous defiance of AP style, but there are audible differences between the two, um, incarnations(?) With “Bent,” the first single from Mad Season, the casually Hootie-fied jangle of the band’s debut gives way to high AOR drama, with a confused riff attempting to pluck itself out of a sonic cavern while a drummer slaps it about from underneath. And that’s just the intro–it only gets busier from there.

If “Bent” was bigger, dumber, and more dysfunctional, so was Rob Thomas. And that was cool–I prefer my adult contemporary habitués to be disgruntled rather than ingratiating/facile or soulful/over-expressive. Let me illustrate by way of Santana duets. Thomas’s “Smooth” was an irritation, right down to that “or else fow-git abowwt it” that I’ve just embedded in your cerebellum for the next hour.* But the love-me-or-leave-me orneriness of “Smooth” at least triggered a response, which is more than I can say for Michelle Branch’s calorie-free “The Game of Love” or that Chad Kroeger tune that I have no memory of at all.

“Bent” is also where Thomas stops placing his neuroses in the mouths of babes. Previously, fabricated lady nutjobs strained his everyman patience, whether shouting “I wanna push you around” at him or waking him at “3 A.M.” with needy, aquaphobic rants. But “I’m so scared that I’ll never/ Be put back together” isn’t just a great couplet (if you can overlook the fact that a bent object doesn’t require reassembly, which, obviously, I can); it’s Thomas fessing up to his almost infantile insecurities. There’s nothing here as bluntly childish as “If You’re Gone”‘s classic sulk “I think you’re so mean,” but the candid high-maintenance of “Could you sympathize with my needs/ I know you think I need a lot” is a tiny crawl forward for the big baby. (And more palatable than, say, the sexist condescension of Train.)

Thomas may not be a sympathetic character, but at least give the fucker credit for not trying to be. What other mainstream quasi-hack would even risk a line like “I’m jaded/ Just phonin’ it in”? He’s just a pop craftsman of the old AM school, updated for the modern office space, and if Loser’s Lounge, or some analogue thereof, lingers another decade or so, they’d best be celebrating this lunk. And I will sing along.

[This isn’t the real video obviously. But I wish it was.]

* Per wikipedia: “The song had a Latin beat and became an example of Thomas’ lyrical talents.” Also, I’m not entirely sure the cerebellum is the memory part.

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  • Craig B  On January 25, 2010 at 7:06 am

    No wonder I’ve never heard a Matchbox Twenty song. I just listened to this one, and I swear by tomorrow morning I’ll have no idea what these guys sound like.

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