Liner Notes: Dave Matthews Band explores brevity on ‘Walk Around the Moon’
Stars and Stripes May 26, 2023
There are two Dave Matthews Bands. One is the screaming loud funky jam outfit that keeps its finger on the pulse of its listeners by utilizing every second of a crescendo to maximize dance probabilities within those who consume it (think “Drive In Drive Out” or “Can’t Stop”). The other is the tender singer-songwriter version that highlights its namesake’s earthy poetry that probably isn’t as profound as some think it is, but certainly always reminds fans that there’s a guy behind the machine who is quirky, affable and vulnerable (think “Crash Into Me” or “Where Are You Going?”). Dave Heads love both; tangential fans tend to enjoy one while tolerating the other.
“Walk Around the Moon,” the band’s 10th studio record and noted pandemic project, serves both masters to varying degrees that soar further toward successes than failures. Clocking in at just below 43 minutes, it’s the group’s shortest studio set by a country mile (and that even includes the polarizing Glen Ballard-produced pop-obsessed “Everyday”). A cursory listen explains why: These are unfinished ideas. No song here touches five minutes, a rarity for a band that’s gathered its tribe via both indulgence and expansion.
What makes “Moon” work, though, is precisely that. DMB might be the only band going with a 30-plus-year history that can now be lauded for its brevity, if only because brevity at this point in their career is a novelty. “After Everything” is a rocker (by Matthews standards at least) that bends, twists and jerks its way through a rollercoaster that provides everything from a section drawing directly from the Beatles to drummer/singer Carter Beauford’s wildest vocal scatting on record. It’s instantly one of the best songs in the band’s catalog. “The Only Thing” keeps that energy as it slithers its way along a rock-laden path while “Break Free” slows the tempo but loses no punch.
Then there’s that tender side. “Looking for a Vein” is just Matthews, a guitar and a drum machine, which again, on paper seems simple, but for a band like this feels fresh. Then there’s “All You Wanted Was Tomorrow,” which is a soft and reflective pop tune that follows the toned down DMB formula and “The Ocean and the Butterfly,” which sounds exactly like a song called “The Ocean and the Butterfly” should sound. Thankfully, that same assessment doesn’t apply to the rest of “Walk Around the Moon,” which doesn’t reach beyond the pale of what a Dave Matthews Band studio record should be – concise, ambitious and presented with expectations of live performances in mind.
“I hear strange voices every step I take,” Matthews sings on the angular “Monsters.” That lyrical idea is nothing new to the DMB oeuvre, but this time, those voices aren’t rambling nearly as much as they used to. As such, their words matter here more than ever.