Album Review: Mat Kearney – City of Black & White

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”

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6 Responses to Album Review: Mat Kearney – City of Black & White

  1. J Boggan says:

    It’s a bit difficult for me to understand the basis for this review. Granted, I was not as impressed with City of Black and White as I was with Nothing Left to Lose, but Mat’s music is laced with much more creativity and personality than the vast majority of the crap that makes the radio. If you take the time to look into what’s behind the songs you’ll find that they’re all based on personal experiences with a depth greater again than the vast majority of the music I come across. I respect your opinion but have tremendously enjoyed his music.

  2. Brent says:

    Your review shows how small minded you are sir. There is for many of something called a spirit world. Just because a song doesn’t completly fit for you, maybe some of the songs are actually written about things larger than your small mind. If you can’t rap your head around the idea that not every song ever written is about women and drugs, maybe you should find a new job, that said, all the songs would work in context with a woman as well, but as a long time fan, I know whether he always admits it or not, alot of these songs referance God, maybe that will make more sense for your small mind which would rather rip an artist than search for a meaning in their songs.

    It took me a bit to process this album, but in the end, if you like great music, you will like Mat Kearney.

  3. And your punctuation, grammar, and spelling mistakes show how small-minded you are, sir.

    This is not my job. I do it for fun, and I do not get paid. I am okay with any artist writing about God in their songs, but I have an expectation of them to do that in an original manner that doesn’t sound exactly like something I have heard before.

    Please also notice that I never said that any of the songs are about women. His lyrics are written with such a broad sweep that you could really read anything into them that you would like, as you have obviously done here. Good for you that you were able to connect with his music. Notice that I’m not calling you stupid for doing that. I don’t think you’re stupid or “small minded” for liking this music (your inability to craft a coherent statement is a different matter entirely), just as I don’t believe I am stupid for not liking it. It’s called an opinion, and everyone’s got one, as the familiar saying goes.

    • Chris says:

      Jason, “has got” is never correct grammar, regardless of how many people err by saying it. The correct last sentence should read, “It’s called an opinion, and everyone has one…” =)

  4. Jordan says:

    To fall back on a person’s grammar, punctuation, and spelling as the main point of your argument that the person your talking to is small minded is it bit pathetic. It seems that people who put periods on the end of their sentences think they are the shit. <=-

    Since when did the internet become Oxford University?

    Anyway, I have to admit I'm not a big Kearney fan, but songs like Nothing Left to Lose & Closer to Love are awesome and not to mention Undeniable.

    You say you have a so called "opinion," and that opinion, quite simply, sucks. Sort of like Chamberlain's opinion that Hitler should be more in charge Germany, and his leadership was a good sign of European unity, lmao. Sort of like Obama's view on health reform.

    So you, 'sir,' (Cuz you know your too cool for school if you say sir) are 'incoherent' to understand that personally most of us quite simply, (again) don't give a fuck about the rules of the English language on a 2D screen of virtual/viral world.

    I'm also guessing your tempted to write a reply to this statement, stratin' your verbal arguement already – maybe now you just thought one of the points to including in your counterattack is that I don't no how to spell argument like I did before this sentence —- in spite of a big red underline telling me I spelled it wrong. I'm just too lazy to right click. Or maybe even that I used the wrong 'no' to be 'know.' Eh, feel free to feed your ego.

  5. chans387 says:

    Hey, guys. I guess it’s been a while since this was all posted but: WTF is the point? You all may be able to articulate your thoughts and opinions effectively but I have something to advise you with: Nobody cares. Nobody fuckin’ cares. The guy who wrote this article felt a need to convey his thoughts about Mat Kearney and everyone who replied felt a need to argue with him about it, quite immaturely, I might add. The end is all the same: its all buried in the internet forever and ever and the only reason I found this review is from searching google “Mat kearney sucks ass.” So say what you want, I don’t care. And neither should you.

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