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Dave Matthews Band - Away From the World Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 8.5
Musicianship 8.75
Lyrics 8.25
Production 8.5
Creativity 8.5
Lasting Value 8.5
Reviewer Tilt 8.75
Final Verdict: 85%
Member Ratings
Vocals 8.75
Musicianship 9.25
Lyrics 6
Production 9.5
Creativity 7
Lasting Value 8
Reviewer Tilt 9
Average: 82%

Dave Matthews Band - Away From the World

Reviewed by: Gregory Robson (09/13/12)
Dave Matthews Band - Away From the World
Record Label: RCA
Release Date: Sept. 11, 2012


This was supposed to be the big one. After all his success with Crash, Before These Crowded Streets and Under the Table and Dreaming, famed producer Steve Lilywhite was finally back on board to produce a DMB album. And unlike the now-historic Lilywhite Sessions, which later morphed into Busted Stuff, this album wouldn't be leaked to the world. And yet, here it is, 2012, and Lilywhite is back. But unlike most reunions, this one is a little murky.

The disc starts off tepidly with the mid-tempo "Broken Things" a winning effort that is not much different from DMB circa Crash. There's a good chunk of Boyd Tinsley's inspired violin playing, a splash of Jeff Coffin's saxophone and Rashawn Ross's sonorous trumpet. There's even Dave's now-signature croon, rising above the notes with ease. And yet, something about "Broken Things," feels strange. Is this really the band's opening salvo? Don't get me wrong, this is a pleasant song and a nice effort, but clearly the band could have opened the disc with much more of a bang.

On the contrary, the brassy "Belly Belly Nice," with its playful horns and soaring chorus feels far more like an opening statement. After inverting the opening two, things settle down on the intimate ballad "Mercy," which carries much of the same hallmarks of "Lying in the Hands of God," but goes a bit deeper. Matthews and Co. always know how to write a first-rate ballad and the tender grace of "Mercy," is no exception. Surefire single "Gaucho," follows and lifts things forwards successfully. Anchored by an uplifting chorus, believe-in-yourself phrasing and a children's choir, "Gaucho," is a crisp effort from a veteran band that knows its way around a song. And yet even with its charms, one can see "Gaucho," as maybe trying to do too much and the second hint that Away From the World is far from a classic.

The placid "Sweet," begins very much like many of the songs on Tim and Dave Live at Luther College. Intimate, earnest and sincere, there's a hushed nature about the song that draws the listener in. While many may find it pleasant, it is also borderline boring and threatens to be considered a throwaway. As if on cue, the band kicks in at the 2:45 mark and almost immediately "Sweet," hearkens back to Before These Crowded Streets and moves fluidly towards a finish. If only "Sweet," had opened with more gusto, the song might be in contention for one of the album's bests. But it was not to be.

Away From the World's first half closes out with the album's first true masterpiece. Ostensibly the title track "The Riff," is a nuanced and inventive look at a romance falling apart. Sounding as tortured and crestfallen as ever, Matthews pleads through the middle half, before segueing into a classic-rock-cum-jazz fusion stomper. Horns teeter and bellow, Tinsley's violin rises, Beauford's drumming starts thumping and Lassard's ever-present bass begins to shudder. Anyone who has seen DMB live knows the band is on a level like few others and the unpredictability and passion imbued in "The Riff," immediately signals fan favorite and soon-to-be live staple.

But sadly the good times are not here for long. The gnomic "Belly Full," is an under two-minute offering in which Dave sings over hushed tones about love for his wife. Any way you slice it, "Belly Full," is most decidedly a filler track and that simple fact is more than maddening. Why it was included is anyone's guess but as a listener it just seems puzzling and flattens out the histrionic heights of "The Riff."

And yet it seems one disappointment was not enough and begrudgingly "If Only" enters the picture. Beginning in much the same understated manner as "The Riff," "Belly Full," and "Sweet," "If Only," tries its best to be earnest and sincere but ultimately feels very distant and lost. Once again, Matthews revisits the theme of separation and domestic strife and in many ways, "If Only," could be considered the epilogue of "The Riff." But whereas "The Riff," was an absolute home run, "If Only," is a bunt single.

As if cognizant of this, Dave and Co. up their game on "Rooftop," a tour-de-force laden with splashy horns, reedy violins, steady drumming and Dave's trembling vocals. Once again the world-weary troubadour is trying to get a woman to want him and the passion that drips from the opening note to the final second once again signals live staple and inevitable fan favorite.

Away From the World's penultimate offering is "Snow Outside," a subdued and understated composition that feels like it's heading nowhere. While restraint is nice it doesn't seem genuine here and the song threatens to tank. Thankfully, the veteran septet allows horns to kick in towards the finish and the song ends nicely. But that simple fact is what makes "Snow Outside," so upsetting. On an album like Big Whiskey, Before These Crowded Streets, and even in some ways, Everyday, "Snow Outside," would easily be considered the weakest effort. But with the blandness of "Belly Full," and "If Only," it most definitely is not the weakest outing. That in and of itself is troubling.

And so it is, Away From the World ends with the near 10-minute "Drunken Soldier," which features a near three-minute instrumental and a two-minute instrumental outro which bookend a middle section in which a stew of steamy horns, lilting violin and clattering drums drive home a timeless epic about cherishing our time on earth. Bordering on theatrical and not unlike "Don't Drink the Water," and "The Last Stop," "Drunken Soldier," is a song with a soaring, titanic structure and the ever-important lines, "Make the most of what you got, don't waste time trying to be something you're not."

And it is there in that ever-simple phrasing that Away From the World makes all the sense in the world. Born and raised a Quaker, Matthews has never shied away from asking his listeners to make the most of the world. And that sense of responsibility and joie de vivre is ever-present in the lyrics of Away From the World. Whether its the role of activism in "Gaucho," in which he sings "We gotta do much more than believe if we really wanna change things," or the role of perseverance in "Sweet," in which he croons, "Try to swim, keep your head up, kick your feet, never give up," Matthews never shies away from being a guardian of spirit and optimism. Sure he can be tortured, dark and borderline manic, but all too often he lets his music be a tonic for a tortured world. And that small fact should never go unnoticed.

After the success both critically and commercially of 2009's Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King, one had to think the band would take a step backward. And surely enough that has happened. But truly there's no cause for concern or lamenting. In fact, there are countless number of bands who would love to call this their masterwork. The only problem is at this point in their career, DMB have crafted many albums superior to this one (and in the case of Stand Up, some worse).

And even if Away From the World was terrible (and it isn't), just the fact that the band is still making music is reason enough to celebrate. After all this is the band that brought bootlegs and tape trading back into the mainstream, and in doing so, ultimately reinvigorated the importance (and commercial success) of live music, festivals and concerts. They are also the same band that pushed an electric fiddle and horns back into the pop landscape. Those two feats in and of itself are reason enough to celebrate the band until its dying day. Granted Away From the World takes a few missteps, but there could be far worse missteps made. In short, a few stray hiccups only gives a listener more reason to be excited for the next release. And really, isn't that what it's always about?

Recommended If You Like Before These Crowded Streets, The Lilywhite Sessions, Little Feat, Phish


Find Them Here http://www.davematthewsband.com
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 19
09:47 AM on 09/13/12
#2
emery3993
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Strongly disagree with a few points:

Broken Things is without question one of the standout tracks and in my opinion an incredible opener for an album, probably the best since The Best of What's Around

Snow Outside is a masterpiece. I respect your opinion but, this track would be the weakest track on Big Whiskey and Everyday? Really?

No way this is a step back from Big Whiskey
09:52 AM on 09/13/12
#3
Gregory Robson
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Strongly disagree with a few points:

Broken Things is without question one of the standout tracks and in my opinion an incredible opener for an album, probably the best since The Best of What's Around

Snow Outside is a masterpiece. I respect your opinion but, this track would be the weakest track on Big Whiskey and Everyday? Really?

No way this is a step back from Big Whiskey
We're going to have to agree to disagree on "Broken Things." It belongs third or fourth in the tracklisting in my opinion. I don't see it fitting as an opener. But it is a pretty sweet song.

I gave the album four listens before posting this. In all four listens "Snow Outside," failed to inspire me. While it is lyrically solid (and one of the best), musically it just doesn't grab me. I'm hoping that changes on repeated listens.

And for me, this is a step back. But I'm one of the few critics that feels that way. Maybe this album just needs more time and by the end of the month I absolutely love it.
10:13 AM on 09/13/12
#4
SmeezyBeezy
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Bro fight. You guys should battle to the death with frisbees and snap-backs.
10:34 AM on 09/13/12
#5
Quijiba
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We're going to have to agree to disagree on "Broken Things." It belongs third or fourth in the tracklisting in my opinion. I don't see it fitting as an opener. But it is a pretty sweet song.

I gave the album four listens before posting this. In all four listens "Snow Outside," failed to inspire me. While it is lyrically solid (and one of the best), musically it just doesn't grab me. I'm hoping that changes on repeated listens.

And for me, this is a step back. But I'm one of the few critics that feels that way. Maybe this album just needs more time and by the end of the month I absolutely love it.
I'm surprised you only gave it 4 listens before writing a review. Personally, I could give thoughts on the album but I don't feel I would do the review justice without a few more listens to really absorb the album
10:37 AM on 09/13/12
#6
Gregory Robson
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I'm surprised you only gave it 4 listens before writing a review. Personally, I could give thoughts on the album but I don't feel I would do the review justice without a few more listens to really absorb the album
Dude, I'm not going to listen to it 10 or 15 times before writing a review. Do you realize how many albums people have given me to review? Like honestly. I don't have that kind of time. Tons more music out there. Some journalists only listen to an album once or twice and then write a review. Some don't even go that far.
12:14 PM on 09/13/12
#7
Quijiba
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Dude, I'm not going to listen to it 10 or 15 times before writing a review. Do you realize how many albums people have given me to review? Like honestly. I don't have that kind of time. Tons more music out there. Some journalists only listen to an album once or twice and then write a review. Some don't even go that far.
You make a very very valid point haha. Technically speaking you have given the album double the time an average reviewer does. I can support that
12:19 PM on 09/13/12
#8
emery3993
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We're going to have to agree to disagree on "Broken Things." It belongs third or fourth in the tracklisting in my opinion. I don't see it fitting as an opener. But it is a pretty sweet song.

I gave the album four listens before posting this. In all four listens "Snow Outside," failed to inspire me. While it is lyrically solid (and one of the best), musically it just doesn't grab me. I'm hoping that changes on repeated listens.

And for me, this is a step back. But I'm one of the few critics that feels that way. Maybe this album just needs more time and by the end of the month I absolutely love it.

I can see where you're coming from with Broken Things, but I really think it would be a great way to open a show, I think they could develop a sweet jam at the end of the song live.

Completely agree with you on the lyrics for Snow Outside, probably my favorite off the album along with Broken Things. And I can definitely see this one being hit or miss with people, but it is actually the song that grabbed me the most on first listen, absolutely love it.

Unlike most hardcore fans I actually really like Big Whiskey and Everyday, and this album is in my mind at least on par with those, if not better. Boyd has a much more pronounced role on the new album and that has really been missing.
12:35 PM on 09/13/12
#9
Jeremy Aaron
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I feel like I'm a rare entity when it comes to Dave. Most people I know either hate him with a bloody passion or they've seen him a hundred times. I like his stuff, but I've never been to a show. I curse him every time he comes around because the traffic just about everywhere in the area is a nightmare.

I always get a kick out of these arguments about the number of times someone has to listen to an album before they are capable of commenting on it. A few years ago, Owen Gleiberman at EW wrote a review for the first of the new Sherlock Holmes films. In it, he wrote that he's often asked how many times he sees a movie before writing his review. His response: just once. And it's funny, but I think most people would be satisfied with that. I think few people would argue that someone needs to see a movie ten or fifteen times before making up their mind, and there's a lot going on in a movie to judge: acting performances, set design, costume and wardrobe, direction, sound, script writing, the list goes on and on. So why this opinion exists of music, which is just audio, I don't quite understand, but I strongly reject the notion that if I'm actively listening closely to something, that I need to listen countless times in order to form an opinion. For me, my opinion at listen ten or twenty is going to be the same as it was at listen one, except I'm probably tired of something I at least liked initially. I would concede though, that after a time, I might like an album I didn't initially, but that usually has to do with context-- as in, I've now heard something else that has acted as a gateway to my enjoyment of it. If that makes any sense. So I don't know, to each his or her own, I guess. I play music from pretty much the minute I get up to the minute I go to bed, and I can say pretty confidently that I haven't listened to any albums ten times this year.
08:39 PM on 09/13/12
loj
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apples and oranges, i think
09:19 PM on 09/13/12
Thomas Nassiff
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I feel like I'm a rare entity when it comes to Dave. Most people I know either hate him with a bloody passion or they've seen him a hundred times. I like his stuff, but I've never been to a show. I curse him every time he comes around because the traffic just about everywhere in the area is a nightmare.

I always get a kick out of these arguments about the number of times someone has to listen to an album before they are capable of commenting on it. A few years ago, Owen Gleiberman at EW wrote a review for the first of the new Sherlock Holmes films. In it, he wrote that he's often asked how many times he sees a movie before writing his review. His response: just once. And it's funny, but I think most people would be satisfied with that. I think few people would argue that someone needs to see a movie ten or fifteen times before making up their mind, and there's a lot going on in a movie to judge: acting performances, set design, costume and wardrobe, direction, sound, script writing, the list goes on and on. So why this opinion exists of music, which is just audio, I don't quite understand, but I strongly reject the notion that if I'm actively listening closely to something, that I need to listen countless times in order to form an opinion. For me, my opinion at listen ten or twenty is going to be the same as it was at listen one, except I'm probably tired of something I at least liked initially. I would concede though, that after a time, I might like an album I didn't initially, but that usually has to do with context-- as in, I've now heard something else that has acted as a gateway to my enjoyment of it. If that makes any sense. So I don't know, to each his or her own, I guess. I play music from pretty much the minute I get up to the minute I go to bed, and I can say pretty confidently that I haven't listened to any albums ten times this year.
Like...any albums...10 times at all? Or specifically any albums before you've reviewed them?
10:54 PM on 09/13/12
JunkBondTrader
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as a die hard fan. i disagree with a majority of the review. but you are entitled to your opinion.

i find this album to be superior to BW in every single way. and i really liked BW. the tracsk you highlight as low lights are in my mind the strongest on the album. "Snow Outside" is destined to be the aboslute highlight among fans, and i am entrenched enough in the fanbase to know that this is the song that the diehards have been getting off to. "Broken Things" is another standout imo, and as someone said probably the best album opener outside of Rapunzel and BOWA. "Sweet" is personally one of my favorite DMB songs. The only tracks I find to be subpar are "Rooftop", which draws striking similarites to "Dreams of Our Fathers", a time period for the band that does not bring about fond memories, and "Gaucho", which is musically really strong, but lyrically it just beats you over the head. As you stated, "The Riff" is a great tune and "BBN" is a fun fun song.

I think its easily their best album since BTCS. Busted Stuff is a great collection of songs (fan favorites live, all of them), but the album is pretty much a flatline, no pulse. If SL wouldve gotten a chance to finish them it no doubt would have been a classic.
11:47 PM on 09/13/12
xjoex
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Guys with Abercrombie shirts and plaid shorts are stoked
12:07 AM on 09/14/12
turningdrummer
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I listen to Stand Up more than I do Everyday, and idk where the guy up there gets that hardcore dave fans dislike BW, because all the fan-atics I know adore it, as do I. AFTW is a great album, I'm pleased, and am giving it a third spin tonight. Sweet was one of my faves, esp. when the band kicks in, and Drunken Soldier is one of my new all-time tracks. BBN rocked my world, too.

However, I appreciate your article and agreed with the majority of it; good review, man.
05:58 AM on 09/14/12
Jeremy Aaron
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Like...any albums...10 times at all? Or specifically any albums before you've reviewed them?

Any, though there are a number that are probably in the ballpark. It didn't strike me until not long ago that most people would find that kinda weird. I feel like, people say stuff all the time like "I remember exactly where I was or what I was doing when I first heard that." No one ever remembers where they were the eighth time they heard something. It's a diminishing returns sort of thing. Even my all time favorites, I feel as though if I play them all the time, they'll stop being "special." If the whole family gathered together for a big dinner every day, Christmas or Thanksgiving wouldn't be much of an occasion. It might sound crazy to some people, but I want listening to an album like Pinkerton or Clarity to be something I get excited about, not something I do every day. And luckily, there's plenty of material out there, new and old, waiting for me to discover them, so I keep plenty busy.
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