There are songs about getting dumped, and then there are songs about getting ”dumped.” Literally. Into this rarer second camp falls ”Rest Stop,” a ballad on matchbox twenty’s sophomore album, mad season, which recounts the true story of how a girlfriend broke up with singer Rob Thomas by letting him off on the side of a freeway in the middle of the night.
As Thomas retells it, he was dozing in the passenger seat when she pulled over and suggested he get out, leaving him three miles from the nearest comfort station. ”She said, While you were sleeping/I was listening to the radio/And wondering what you’re dreaming when/It came to mind that I didn’t care.” Ouch! But what’s weirder than the abruptness of this kiss-off is the fact that Thomas doesn’t seem to bear the gal any ill will. ”The light was shining from the radio/I could barely see her face/But she knew all the words that I had never said/She knew the crumpled-up promise of this/Broken down man…”
Hey, Rob, just whose side are you on? Most guys would hijack the next 18-wheeler, hoping to pull a ”Duel” and run the broad off the road. Not Thomas, who actually manages to see things from the woman’s point of view. Then again, maybe success IS the best revenge. The only hint of vengeance comes in the lines ”Are you listening — can you hear me/Have you forgotten”: the milder-mannered version of Joe Jackson’s spiteful ”You’re gonna hear me on your radio!”
She certainly is hearing him, wherever she is. Thomas is coming off a 10-times-platinum debut, 1996’s ”Yourself or Someone Like You”; a chart-topping collaboration with Carlos Santana, ”Smooth”; and recent nuptials, as seen in a prime-time In Style special. Despite all this great fortune, he’s in no mood to gloat. Rather, he lyrically revisits one bad relationship after another — indulging not in rock’s tradition of self-righteous rage, but in his own failings and insecurities. ”I feel stupid, but it’s something that comes and goes,” he admits in the title song. ”Now I know I put us both through hell…/I just didn’t think you’d ever get tired of me,” he confesses in the lamentful ”Leave.” And then: ”I’m weaker than I used to be/I wear my heart out on my sleeve/And I forget the rest of me.” He manages to be downright ballsy in his self-emasculation.
The other musicians seem resigned to their own humility, in the service of what might as well be a Thomas solo album. Especially in its ballad-heavy second half, ”mad season” feels like the rock equivalent of a chick flick. Millions of young women may swoon to Thomas’ ingenuousness, but while matchbox twenty are just enough of a real rock band that it won’t be hard to drag their boyfriends along, most guys — we’re guessing — will be fruitlessly hoping for an occasional guitar solo or really up-tempo tune, or whatever the contextual analog of a car chase or nude scene might be.
There are moments, as in ”Stop” and ”Crutch,” when relative urgency develops and it all threatens to come together; probably not coincidentally, these are the numbers in which Thomas quits being so humble and gets his moxie. He also gets defensive in the album’s poppiest number, ”Last Beautiful Girl,” the moral of which is, there are always more supermodels in the sea.
For most of ”mad season,” though, matchbox twenty take a more emotionally enlightened path, full of sensitivity and candor that, without much musical oomph as backup, ultimately tend toward the prosaic. You can admire Thomas’ sincerity but still identify with that ejector-seat-happy girlfriend in ”Rest Stop,” not nearly driven to wonder what his next thought will be. C+