March 07, 2005

Eric Matthews "Six Kinds of Passion Looking For An Exit"

After eight years, baroque-pop meister Eric Matthews breaks his silence and returns with Six Kinds of Passion Looking For An Exit. Back in the mid-1990s, he made beautiful, literate, Burt Bacharach-styled pop music, first with Cardinal and then on his own, giving the indie-rock world two sophisticated, classy albums, The Lateness of the Hour and It's Heavy In Here. He got smart listeners all turned on, he was deemed classy by tastemakers like Spin and Details, and then...he disappeared, quickly forgotten by the indie-rock world. For those who knew of him, his disappearance has been considered nothing less than tragic, and his loyal fanbase would always ask the eternal "when the hell are you going to make your own album, Eric?" whenever his name appeared on records by other bands.

Despite the awkward title, his music is still undeniably smooth and his croon is still very much intact, but a few things are different this time around. Instead of gorgeous, baroque pop found on his previous outings, almost all of the songs on Six Kinds of Passion Looking For An Exit are very minimal in their arrangement, and instead of gorgeous, perfect three minutes pop compositions, four of the seven songs found here stretch past the five minute mark. Matthews, like later-period Talk Talk or Scott Walker, seems more interested in stretching the boundaries of pop music than building upon his excellent reputation, and on first listen, it is indeed a bit of a shock, especially if you were expecting The Lateness Of The Hour part two.

Which, of course, does nothing to tarnish the simple fact that Matthews has once again created an excellent record. As scant as Six Kinds of Passion Looking For An Exit may be--seven songs in barely a half-hour--he never wastes a second. Matthews seems to be more inclined to minimalistic jazz-tinted pop that's somewhat folk in nature a la Scott Walker--and, as heard on "So Overblown" and "Cardinal in Love"-- he can make a simple arrangement of piano, guitar, trumpet and voice sound like a full orchestra. On more upbeat numbers, such as "So You Really Want It" and " Black In Light Brown," he returns to past glories, even though these moments are mere passing glimpes in comparison to his more sophisticated, darker style. (It's should come as no surprise, then, that these moments that are more reminiscent of his past are also the shortest songs on the record.)

Will the world understand and appreciate? Probably not. Matthews has been gone too long, and many of the sophisticated minds that appreciated him long ago have since replaced their Matthews love for less cerebral things. A shame, that--but that's okay, because Matthews isn't trying to build on his past glories; like all great artists, he's more interested in looking ahead, and if that means stripped-down, six minute pop epics sung with a sexy croon and very little else, then so be it. Six Kinds Of Passion Looking For An Exit might not be a "comeback" record, but it's a welcome return to form for a terribly underrated (and sophisticated) artist, gone far too long.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:
Label Website:

No comments: