CRAZYTALK – Mat Kearney
When Mat Kearney gave us his fifth album, JUST KIDS, in February of 2015, it surprised me. I distinctly remember listening through the whole album on a long ride home from Pennsylvania in March. The sounds on that album were starkly different than what I was used to hearing from him – but it was good. From the first song on the record, Heartbreak Dreamer, all the way through the hometown anthem, Oregon, it’s stylishly Mat Kearny, well-written and groovy. JUST KIDS did feel somewhat experimental; there were sounds, even words, I’d never heard before. Yet it didn’t feel like a stylistic left turn but a new flavor of tried and true.
Earlier this month Mat Kearney released CRAZYTALK. After listening through, the only world that comes to mind is ‘uninspired’. It’s been three years since Mat Kearney put out an album, and CRAZYTALK was not worth the wait.
Face to Face, Kings and Queens, and Wanted Man are the only songs I might be tempted to revisit when scrolling through Spotify. It’s unfair to expect an artist to reproduce another version of past material – but you always hope they continue to flesh out new ideas and melodies in a creative way. That’s what Mat Kearney has been doing for a long time, but I felt like that only happened a few times in this newest record.
Mat Kearney’s writing has always been pretty simple, his lines make it seem like writing a song is something anyone could do – which is pretty cool. That approach doesn’t change in CRAZYTALK. His subject matter has also been fairly uniform over the years. Usually songs are written for or about his wife or personal reflection with the occasional Rochester. This doesn’t change, but these lines are less eloquent than they’ve ever been. When looking for lyrics online, I had to make sure to add his name to the track title because almost every song shared a title with another artist’s work. Once again, it’s not fair to expect reproduction, but as my brother Luke said of By Your Side, “It’s no Shasta”.
CRAZYTALK feels like a bout of writer’s block forged into a sixth album. It’s the kind of album that you hope the artist leaves off the set-list if you’re going to a live show. I’m not sure what the train of thought behind the album art was, but the neon pink is, uh, not attractive. In I Can’t Wait for You to Get Here, he writes,
“We were picking rings and riding trains,
Now we’re picking paint and middle names,”
It seems, unfortunately, that the former made for better songs. I have some problems with the writing on this album. I found the incorporation of pop-culture language into songs very obnoxious. The words Netflix, Kanye, Beyonce, latte, ‘vacay’, chill days, and Coldplay all show up in my least favorite song on the album, Money; it’s cringworthy. There are far more endearing terms to describe your girl than U.S. currency. Maybe his well of love songs has run dry.
I’m still puzzled by the tonal choices used in many of the tracks. The choice of guitar to drive Kings and Queens and Wanted Man doesn’t seem right to me. Then I don’t even know what’s happening in Fortress, but it ain’t working. I love Mat Kearney’s piano ballads like New York to California and In the Middle, but no such appearances were made here.
All told, I was greatly disappointed by CRAZYTALK; I think it’s his least impressive record thus far. The reviews by CCM and Jesusfreakhideout somehow give it four stars – I’d give it two. If you listen through and some of the better songs sort of strike your fancy, you might say, “Ah, it isn’t so bad.” But as Sir Percy Blakeney said in The Scarlet Pimpernel, “Nothing in the world is so bad as something that is not so bad.” So throw down the needle on Young Love again, and here’s to album number seven.