Like many artists, there seems to be two camps when it comes to Dave Matthews Band: those who despise them with every fiber of their being and don’t understand their popularity and those who love them beyond all measure. I myself, fall into the latter category. I proudly worship at the altar of awesome that is Dave Matthews Band. With the exception of last year when they did not tour and this year when their fan club, Warehouse, pissed me off beyond all reason, I have made my way to multiple concerts every year since 2005. My love of DMB was so well-known that my old employers would delight in my yearly freak out when I received my concert tickets (it’s highly entertaining; there is dancing and high-pitched squealing.) With the recent release of their eighth album Away from the World, I decided to listen to their studio albums, which I haven’t done in a while and see how I feel about all of them.
Under the Table and Dreaming (1994)-This is their first official album and it really set the standard for the band. It’s an excellent debut with a great mixture of songs. It’s so cohesive, but each song has its own unique quality. DMB really establishes that they are different from the collective. It’s a nearly flawless album. My only qualm is “Lover Lay Down.” I can listen to the song, but it is one of my least favorite. It just doesn’t stick to me.
Crash (1996)-This is my favorite album out of their discography. I pretty much listened to this non-stop my junior year of high school (which was 2001-2002 about 5 years after this album came out). Many of the songs they consistently perform live are from this album which is a testament to how good it is. It’s well-balanced with fast, rocking up-tempos and soft, slow tunes as well. As usual, it’s very eclectic, but the album flows well and nothing sounds completely out of place. This album houses my favorite song they perform live “Two Step.” The recording on the album is good, but when you hear the song live, it’s just epic.
Before These Crowded Streets (1998)-Their third album which completes the Holy Trinity of Awesome. The first thing I think of with this album is it sounds slightly different from their previous stuff. It still has their distinctive sound, but most of the songs are darker musically. It’s definitely not as mainstream as Under the Table and Dreaming and Crash. It’s a nearly flawless album that shows their growth without straying too far from their roots.
Everyday (2001)- Everyday was the album that many fans feel was the beginning of the end. From what I have gathered, this album is disliked by hardcore fans although it does have a couple songs that are classics. In my case, I actually like this album and their later stuff which is somewhat of an anomaly. I listened to this non-stop the summer it came out. It’s definitely different from their previous releases. They did not work with longtime collaborator and fan favorite Steve Lillywhite, instead working with Glen Ballard. This album also represents the change in the way the band produced music at least for this album. Previously, their process was very collaborative, but with this record the music had already been written by Matthews and Ballard and the band just played it. Many feel the material is sub-par but it’s not necessarily bad, just different. The DMB style is still there it’s just been delivered in a very pop/rock incarnation which musically makes it a very straightforward album. As someone who didn’t grow up with the band (I was 9 when they released their first album,) this was their first album I bought when it actually came out so, for me, this wasn’t a vast disappointment. In those turbulent teen years, the lyrics really spoke to me and echoed what I was feeling. It’s not necessarily more introspective than any other album, but I focused more on this album’s lyrics than their previous ones. Some of my favorite tracks are “What You Are,” “Mother, Father,” “Dreams of Our Father” and of course, “Everyday” which is a played a lot on their shows and sounds the most like a DMB song of old. For the life of me, I don’t understand why people like “When the World Ends.” I just can’t listen to it.
Busted Stuff (2002)-This album evolved from the Lillywhite Sessions. The LW sessions were from the recording sessions the band had with longtime producer Steve Lillywhite in 2000 and were meant to be a follow-up to Before These Crowded Streets. Not loving the output, the band decided to scrap these sessions. Eventually, Dave Matthews would partner with another producer, Glen Ballard, for what would become Everyday. Sometime later a fan ended up getting a copy of the recordings and asked for permission to release them. From what I read from the ever reliable Wikipedia, an imposter posed as Lillywhite and gave his permission to release the music which is how fans got hold of the material and titled them The Lillywhite Sessions. After the release of Everyday, the band reworked the songs and lyrics and released this album. Most of the songs on this album were from or inspired from these sessions. Honestly, this is not my favorite album. I only like half of the songs and the album just lacks that energy and punch. The album does return DMB to something echoing their pre-Everyday sound which I do like. There are few standouts such as “Bartender,” “Where Are You Going,” “You Never Know, “Grace is Gone, “Big Eyed Fish” and my personal favorite “Grey Street.” “Grey Street” is my favorite song that DMB has ever written, which may seem like an odd choice but this song is extremely personal to me. I cry every 1 in 3 times I hear it as it is a musical representation of everything I felt when I was a teenager and even now as an adult. It’s like they went into my soul, bottled up everything that I was feeling and put it in a song. The up-tempo music is an excellent contrast to the heartbreaking lyrics. “Bartender,” which was a great song before the following experience, has now jumped to one of my Top 5 favorite songs by them after hearing it live at the band’s Staples Center concert the day LeRoi Moore passed away. They opened the show with the song and the sheer emotion in Dave’s voice and the intensity with which the band played was powerful and extremely moving. It must have been so difficult to continue with the show after their brother passed away but they did it with so much passion, intensity, emotion and grace. The band released the recording on one of their live track compilation albums and, if you have a chance, you should buy it. It’s amazing.
Stand Up (2005)-This is an odd album. If Crash represented my junior year of high school, then Stand Up represents the summer before my last year of college. This cd was in my car non-stop for about 5 months. If you asked me then what I thought about this album, I would say it is amazing. Now that some years have passed, I will say it’s okay. This is in large part to the fact that these songs are so much better live. There is more energy, more life, and more emotion. One can argue that this is the case for every one of their songs but it’s just more noticeable on this particular album. The studio recording is not particularly memorable, but when you hear the songs live one can understand why they are on this album. Per the usual, there are definitely some standouts such as “American Baby,” “Louisiana Bayou,” and “You Might Die Trying.”
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King (2009)-I love this album. LOVE. It is by the narrowest margin that this album is not my favorite. Crash has a slight edge over it. This sounds like a totally different band in terms of passion and energy and it returns the band to their roots, which is not surprising. Leading up this album, there was a lot of internal strife to the point where they contemplated breaking up and then in a shocking turn, LeRoi Moore unexpectedly passed away. The day he passed Dave Matthews Band performed the first night of their two night stand at the Staples Center and it was one of the most intense experiences I have had. Listening to this album, it feels like they channeled everything they had emotionally into it. One could argue in previous albums they were phoning it in, but this album demonstrates their renewed spirit and joy in playing together. This is the only album in their discography where there isn’t a single song I don’t like. Usually there is at least one that I don’t listen to, but I can honestly say that I like every single song, which is rare for any artist. My personal favorites are “Why I Am,” “Alligator Pie,” “You and Me,” and “Baby Blue.”
September 11 brought Away from the World to my ears and with it some mixed emotions. Where Big Whiskey is rockin’ and demonstrates the renewed vigor with the band, Away from the World is the exact opposite. The band is united as ever but they have mellowed out. The album feels like a meditation which is both a positive and a negative. The lyrics are poignant and the instrumentation is great but the album is just too mellow. It’s not necessarily a bad album it just doesn’t stand out. It’s difficult to pinpoint, but there is just something missing. However, this cd contains “Gaucho” which is a fantastic song. It really stands out and I love when the electric guitar comes in. Just awesome.
These studio albums only represent a small part of the Dave Matthews Band experience. There are plenty of songs that have been played in concert, but have never been available on a studio album. They have a vast collection of live albums which are simply fantastic. I have seen my fair share of DMB concerts and I will say that I have not loved every show, but the ones they have released are the best of the best. Listener Supported, Live from Piedmont Park, Live from the Mile High Music Festival (which I attended)and Live Trax: Volume 10: Lisbon, Portugal are some of my favorites.
Dave Matthews Band has been a huge part of my life for over 10 years. They have had some ups and downs musically, but they have always been on the greatest bands out there. They have been making great music for 21 years and I can’t wait to hear what they do next.
Under the Table and Dreaming: 9/10
Before These Crowded Streets: 9/10
Busted Stuff: 6/10
Stand Up: 6/10
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King: 10/10
Away from the World: 7/10