Album Review: Dave Matthews Band ‘Away From the World’

Dave Matthews has always been good to his fans. He has put out a standing offer, from an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, to correct the album cover when he signs autographs for fans who bring their copies. He opted not to include nipples on the nude women who adorn the cover of Away From the World, but he’ll draw them in for you in person.

This really feels like an album for the fans. It is certainly the sound long-time fans of the band have longed for, after a few albums which strayed just slightly too far from the realm of simple songs with complex musical interplay, into songs that were just complex and perhaps trying too hard.

The sounds on this record are absolutely brilliant, even though a template is being followed at times. The playful battling of instruments is something only a great jam band or a great touring band with a lot of experience can do while maintaining exactly the soul of the song. They know how far they can creep out of line with the colors out of music, and they know how to spontaneously turn a chord into an arpeggio or play a riff along the harmony without leaving the progression of the track behind. At its most frantic and layered it still has the sound of simplicity, just with a lot of texture. The music always finds its way back to the center of the maelstrom, no matter how torrid the storm.

“Broken Things” seems unsure of whether it is a love song or a thesis on finding prettiness in an ugly world, which is also true of anthemic lead-single “Mercy,” about being proactive, hopeful, and exacting change in life or in love. These songs seem to want to have multiple faces. The music video for “Mercy” is a somewhat ridiculous collage of fans miming out the lyrics in very literal ways, but its concept is clear and it grants some insight into Dave’s songwriting: This song is whatever you need it to be.

It can be a fine line between social consciousness and coming off as a little bit preachy, and I think the latter is the case at times. The album’s two faces are sometimes interwoven and sometimes conflicting, but while the full-on love songs are pristine and beautiful, the more political moments can seem overly dramatic or even sensational.

It’s those love songs that bring everything home. Dave Matthews is one sexy beast of a man, and ‘Belly Belly Nice’ is an example of a song that continues Dave’s penchant for somewhat quirky tunes of lust. He sings, “You can’t get too much love, gonna eat your belly jelly ‘til my kingdom come.” It’s a funky track, and you can certainly tell that they’ve got a couple of new horn players.

The album features very well thought-out transitions, and has great pacing all the way through. “Sweet” is exactly that, and “Belly Full” steps in at just the right time to keep the album from swelling up beyond itself again, a tender little acoustic number.

“Drunken Soldier” is the sprawling, epic finish. The songs on this record feature very distinct movements within them, and while the band members sometimes stray from each other they continue to dance around a common line. They always find their way back, and when they come together it can be very playful, sounding at times improvisational and exploratory.

Away From the World was probably expected to be a pretty mediocre album, but it’s a great one, really showcasing the musical and emotional strengths of Dave Matthews and his ever-growing band. For longtime fans this is a wonderful return to form, and for people who have shrugged the band off in the past it seems like a good one to listen to and come to appreciate what is very intelligently crafted music.

Release Date: September 11, 2012
Image Courtesy of RCA

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