Graded on a Curve:
Dave Matthews Band,
Crush

I am listening to Crash by Dave Matthews Band. I can only liken the experience to sticking my head in a big boiling bowl of suck. Why, you may ask, am I doing this? I’ll be damned if I know. I have always hated the Dave Matthews Band. Matthews’ unique brand of wussified jerk wank is anathema, the very essence of pure unadulterated pussification. My sister-in-law went to a Dave Matthews concert once and ended up in a hair-pulling tussle with another woman. The music of Dave Matthews has this effect on people.

1996’s Crash is often lauded as the best LP by the Dave Matthews Band, but this is rather like calling Mussolini the best dictator of the mid-Twentieth Century. What you’re really saying is it’s the least awful Dave Matthews Band LP. But awful is awful no matter how you slice it, and Matthews’ frat boy take on the jam band “Konzept” does for the Grateful Dead what Charles Manson did for hippies—namely, make people flee for their lives from what was theretofore a relatively benign cultural phenomenon. Seemingly sane humans are always telling me you have to see Matthews live to “get him.” Maybe so. But I would submit that the same can be said about a catastrophic plane crash. I think I’ll stick to watching Alive for the 97th time, thank you very much.

I suppose the reasons for hating the Dave Matthews Band vary from person to person, so I’ll come right out and say the reason I hate the Dave Matthews Band is I can’t stand the quirky way words emerge from Dave’s mouth. In any given song the first word may come out with a horrifying pop and the next word may come out all frat boy funky and then comes some over-earnest crooning and on it goes in a rapid timbre-shifting gush of vocal splooge designed to test my admittedly low pain threshold. Which is just another way of saying his vocal style is idiosyncratic and uniquely irkifying, which isn’t a word but sums up the effect Matthews’ vocal quirks have on my poor brain, which never stood a chance because a clearly vengeful God saw fit to give me ear holes running straight to it.

I also don’t like the way the band’s songs twist and turn and veer and careen all over the place. The Music Reviewer’s Creed requires me to admit I like brief parts of some of the songs on Crash, but I don’t like any of the songs in their entirety because the band is so busy ADHD’ing around in order to show off their “chops.” They come closest to forging a winner on “Crash Into Me,” which is proof positive that given enough rope even the worst band in the world is bound to produce at least one song you wouldn’t mind hanging yourself with. Otherwise they’re the jam band equivalent of Rush, and the very idea of a jam band Rush is enough to cause hot red blood to jet from my nostrils.

Matthews’ at his most annoying vocally on the actually kinda hard-edged “Too Much,” which if I want to be positive I can say I like more than any song ever produced by Train. Would I ever voluntarily listen to “Too Much” or any other Dave Matthews Band song for that matter? No way. All I’m trying to say is that “Too Much” is better than the wimpy “#41” which might as well be a template for the Dave Matthews Band sound, and is much, much better than the even wimpier “Let You Down,” and is much, much, much better than the flute-infested “Say Goodbye,” which does for world music what Adolf Hitler did for Austrian Culture.

What else? “Drive In Drive Out” is a protracted drive-by shooting of everything I hold dear about music, while the sensitive-beyond-words “Cry Freedom” makes me hanker for despotism. As for “Two Step,” it establishes a nice momentum and would almost be okay except Matthews insists upon emoting all over it. And the same goes double for “Lie In Our Graves,” which makes me want to file a restraining order against Dave’s tonsils. Have your ears ever puked? No? Here’s your chance to experience the unimaginable.

“Tripping Billies” personifies everything I despise about the Dave Matthews Band: it’s ersatz funky, the words come literally popping out of Matthews’ mouth, and while the violin playing is pretty good it’s all it can do to preserve its own dignity in such shameful surroundings. As for “Proudest Monkey” it features Matthews at his most fey; if this is evolution—and I’m pretty sure that’s what the song is about—I’m with Devo and proud of it. When Dave ain’t snap, crackle, and popping it’s almost listenable but snap, crackle, and pop Dave must; it’s called determinism and there’s no escaping its immutable laws. One of which, unfortunately, is that once you’ve heard Matthews you will hear him in your nightmares forever.

Look: Is it too late to admit this review is a shuck and that I’ve amplified my nausea for comedic purposes? I’ll take Dave’s homogenized white bread adult contemporary sound over the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Paramore (to pick two names out of a hat) any day. And the brutal fact is that while I find Crash unlistenable it’s not nearly as unlistenable as 1993’s abominable Remember Two Things. Nothing on the former LP even comes close in the ear horror department to “Ants Marching,” which is the quintessential cutesy Dave Matthews song and the perfect storm of everything I find reprehensible about Matthews’ whole aesthetic. And the same goes for “Satellite,” which I pray never falls from orbit onto my ears. So maybe Crash is the best Dave Matthews Band LP when it comes down to it. I’m not sure because I haven’t listened to most of ‘em and never will. I mean what if, God forbid, I began to like the shit?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

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