Something curious happened at the end of last month: I was excited.

I don’t mean excited in the sense that we all kind of say we’re excited when we’re really not — the type of meaningless “yes” you utter to someone close to you after they flippantly ask about it. The excited I mean was the type of excited that recalls the best moments of your youth — the ignorant, non-jaded excited that comes so easy before the world gets in the way and life makes sure the wins never feel as prevalent as the losses. It’s an excited that doesn’t know any better, it’s an excited that appears only in the rarest of instances.

And to think: It was all because of Matchbox Twenty.

I know. If there was any credibility to be lost in the first place, I just watched it dissipate into the smoggy air (thanks, Canada). But hey: I’m nothing if not honest. As uncool and absurd and vulnerable as that seems, I kind of/sort of accidentally began building up the band’s latest record, “Where The Light Goes,” in my head months ago. And I can’t even explain why. For some reason, at some point, I found myself on the World Wide Internet during the beginning of 2023 and saw that Matchbox Twenty was set to put out an album in May. I didn’t think much of it — so much so that I remember actively wondering if I’d remember it was slated to come out by the time it came out.

Turns out, I did. First, there was the release of the initial single, “Wild Dogs (Running In A Slow Dream).” It was fine. Pretty Matchbox Twenty-ish. The sort of up-tempo jingle that felt vaguely inspired by band leader Rob Thomas’ hero, Tom Petty. It was harmless, really. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. But, again, for reasons I can’t explain, I cared about it. Then, it was ditto for “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” the decidedly more generic second single to come from the album. At first glance, I wasn’t even sure I liked it at all. But again, I cared about it.

Fast-forward to May 26 and, stuck at home battling COVID-19 (even though I was told it was over!), the CD — yes, a CD and not even the decidedly cooler vinyl copy — showed up in my mailbox. For the first time in years, I ran out of where I was living when I heard my mailbox close, opened it to find a brown envelope, blew my nose 19 times, and tore that thing open. I felt like I was 9 years old again and Phil Collins’ “Both Sides” appeared in cassette form on Christmas morning. I ripped off the plastic, imported the disc into my desktop (yes, this datedness is cringe-worthy), put those songs onto my iPod (still cringe) and gave it a listen. I texted people. I smiled. I coughed. I smiled again.

Though it was a feeling I hadn’t experienced in decades — and a feeling I still can’t quite articulate when it comes to an origin story this time around — it was a feeling that felt so normal, and a feeling I’ve long known is imperative to falling in love with music. At this point in my life, such a feeling comes and goes, and for a very long time, it had been so consistently gone. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorite records, artists or concerts; it just means that for the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to tap into a very specific enthusiasm that I knew had been so missing for years, but never quite understood how to inspire it again. In perhaps the least-assuming manner possible, Matchbox Twenty, of all bands, was the one to crack the code.

I explain this now, why? Because I can’t be more thankful. Reconnecting with your first love — which, in truth, for me, will probably always be music — is a feat never promised to anyone, but wildly moving if it ever decides to pop back into a consciousness. It reminds you why the love existed in the first place, and it serves as inspiration for why we all hope to engulf ourselves in it again. We should all be so lucky to experience it as fabric within our lives, but the truth is, it’s the kind of love that can be both elusive and ruthless. It can mock and taunt and give you pieces of a puzzle designed to manufacture specific feelings, but never quite come through with a completed piece.

Matchbox Twenty, somehow, managed to put all those pieces together last month. For that, I’ll forever be in debt to them — the same band that glamorized both being lonely at 3 a.m. and pushing people around. It taught me that sometimes, this type of stuff can come from the least-expected places. Never did I think that in the year 2023 that I’d be so into Matchbox Twenty — let alone feel so inspired by a new album from them. But as sure as those wild dogs are running in that slow dream, I am.

So here’s to you, Rob and the boys. And, for the first time in ages, here’s to being excited.

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