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Matchbox Twenty: Mad Season By Matchbox Twenty

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It was almost surreal to watch Matchbox 20 sell 10 million copies of 1996's Yourself Or Someone Like You, the band's alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) bland and shrill debut. Drawing the worst tics and tendencies from Counting Crows' Adam Duritz and innumerable grunge bleaters, Rob Thomas distinguished himself as one of the least charismatic singers in rock, mitigated only by a Hootie-esque flair for ham-fistedly compelling pop-rock hooks. Of course, few could have anticipated the success Thomas would enjoy with his inescapable, award-winning Santana collaboration "Smooth," a song that gave him momentum and the opportunity to reinvent himself in time for a new Matchbox 20 album. He does so to varying degrees on Mad Season By Matchbox Twenty, tweaking everything from the band's name to his own delivery: Thomas' weary self-pity turns up to a lesser degree (though it mars "Mad Season" and others), while the Duritz-style warbling is wisely and considerably toned down. The album even has a truly inspired pop song in "Last Beautiful Girl": The single "Bent" is a distant runner-up in the barely contested battle for Mad Season's best track. "Girl" would be good enough to inspire a wholesale reassessment of Matchbox Twenty if the material surrounding it weren't so average. One disarming pop song can't redeem an entire album, though Thomas has already proven that it can prolong a dubious career.