Album review: Rob Thomas' 'Cradlesong'
Among the innumerable discussions launched last week in the wake of Michael Jackson's death, perhaps the one that will go on the longest is whether the King of Pop's passing confirms what Internet evangelists have been saying for years: that the age of the monoculture is over.
Jackson made music not for a specifically defined demographic group but for anyone with ears; with their soul vocals, dance beats and rock guitars, records like "Thriller" and "Bad" seduced listeners accustomed to any genre. That's a mind-set that seems ill-suited to today's niche-oriented marketing models, but along with his talent and his charisma, it was key to Jackson's superstardom.
Rob Thomas, who first found fame as the frontman of Matchbox Twenty, won't ever ascend to Jackson's heights of creativity or popularity. But his belief in the monoculture is every bit as fervent as Jackson's was: On "Cradlesong," his second solo disc, Thomas presides over a sleekly produced, constantly undulating mixture of sounds that seems designed to appeal to all of the people all of the time.
He's not a Beck-style eclectic, flitting from one mode to another like a musical magpie; rather, he crams everything into each song: In opener "Her Diamonds" he flexes his grunge-god bellow over shimmering pop-rock guitars and percolating African drums. "Gasoline" has early-'80s synth riffs and a stutter-stepped groove borrowed from hip-hop. "Real World '09" moves at the speed of techno yet flutters with folky acoustic textures. "Getting Late" sounds like Nashville by way of Detroit.
What's surprising about "Cradlesong" is how rarely Thomas' please-'em-all attitude saps his music of its distinctive vitality. (Only "Fire on the Mountain," a chest-beating protest-rock move, feels phony.) Like Jackson, Thomas sees that outlook as an energizing force, not an enervating one.