When reviewing albums, it’s customary to point out obvious influences or nods that an artist purposefully incorporates into his or her music as an homage to those who have come before him. For many critics, made up, hyphenated adjectives such as “Dylan-esque” or “Beatles-influenced” are staples of their musical vocabulary. Interestingly, these adjectives can be used as both a compliment and a dismissive or back-handed swipe. But really, when you think about it, just about everyone is influenced by the Beatles or Elvis or any number of important artists who pioneered popular music. So is it so bad for an artist or group to sound like someone else? Well, it can be.
The most apt hyphen-heavy word I can use to describe Mat Kearney’s new album, City of Black & White, is “”Coldplay-lite.” In melody, lyrical content, and vocal styling, Mat Kearney obviously owes a huge debt to Chris Martin and company. His lilting voice is a dead ringer for Martin, his piano heavy arrangements come directly out of Coldplay’s handbook, and the vaguely sad but uplifting lyrics sound a bit too familiar for comfort. Exhibit A (from first single “Closer To Love”): “Oh it’s your light, oh it’s your way / You pull me out of the dark, just to shoulder the weight.” The rest of the album is peppered with pronoun-heavy songs that constantly reference an unidentified “you” or “we,” and damned if they don’t all seem to be about how “we” are going to “get there” some day, and how “you/I” help “me/you” to “pick yourself up/get up off the ground/come out of the grey/etc.” Pay close enough attention, and you may realize that he’s not really saying anything at all. But it sounds nice, I suppose, if you enjoy reading poetry written by a high school girl. Who really listens to lyrics anyway? Right?
That said, the album is very slickly produced and sounds full and gorgeous (just like a Coldplay album!). The instrumentation is warm and pretty, with subtle strings and quiet backing vocals that underscore the “deep meaning” of the lyrics. These songs were tailor made to either add background emotion to your favorite hit show (“Grey’s Anatomy” or “One Tree Hill”) or your high school prom. If you don’t watch shows like that or are no longer in high school, you’re more than likely out of luck here. Unless you’re a Coldplay fan. Then you might be in business.
Despite my loathing for this kind of manufactured, sound-alike pop, I think Mat Kearney is destined for the Top 40. He is inoffensive, unoriginal, slightly boring, and he sounds just like another act that’s sold millions of records. What’s not to like?
Mat Kearney – “Closer To Love”