The first line of “Broken Things,” the opening track on Dave Matthew Band’s latest album, is “Sometimes the road is crystal / And sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
These words perfectly sum up my experience of listening to the album, which is titled “Away From The World.” At times, I thought I knew exactly where Matthews was going in a song, but then he completely changed direction and gave me something unexpected. If you let it, this can be confusing and off-putting, but the key to listening to a jam band such as DMB is to roll with the punches. This is its eighth studio album, so you’ve got to hand it to the band for keeping its music fresh and interesting.
Love is the central theme here, whether it be sexual or social. “Belly Belly Nice” has a gluttonous-sounding Matthews snarling over a fierce groove similar to “Shake Me Like a Monkey” from DMB’s last album, “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King.”
“Rooftop” also showcases Matthews’ gritty and pining voice as well as the band’s darker and louder instrumentals. But the mood of the album quickly switches to social commentary on songs such as “Mercy” and “Gaucho.” The former is a hopeful tune about changing the world, while the latter takes a darker turn, emphasizing a bitter, wailing guitar. Just as quickly, though, the song turns sunny by introducing a children’s choir faintly chanting, “We gotta do much more than believe if we want to see the world change.”
DMB must be credited for knowing when to be loud and when to keep it simple on songs such as “Belly Full,” an acoustic love song lasting a mere one minute and 43 seconds, and “Sweet,” a lullaby-like tune featuring Matthew’s falsetto and a ukulele. It’s ultimately anticlimactic, but that’s perfectly OK, as Matthews manages to find beauty in simplicity.
The album concludes with “Drunken Soldier,” which, at a whopping nine minutes and 46 seconds, wraps up the album on an inspiring note by urging you to “Make the most of what you’ve got / Don’t waste time trying to be something you’re not.” It sounds like it’s trying to be five different songs at once, but true DMB fans will undoubtedly embrace it, and the album as a whole, as a new classic.