We talk to the Matchbox Twenty frontman about how INXS, Tom Petty, and Damn Yankees (?) influenced his new album ''Cradle Song''

By Clark Collis
Updated March 06, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

Rob Thomas originally wanted Cradle Song — the singer’s second solo album and the follow-up to 2005’s chart-topping …Something to Be — to channel the Latin-infused atmosphere of Paul Simon’s 1990 disc The Rhythm of the Saints. The scheme was ambitious and risky — and is almost completely unfulfilled by the half-dozen tracks that Thomas plays EW in a Manhattan recording studio. ”That was our beginning idea, but the songs I was writing just didn’t fit that vibe,” explains the frontman for Matchbox Twenty (who plan to start writing their next album later this month in Nashville). Instead, Cradle Song (due out June 30) features a wide variety of influences, some of them even more unexpected. Possible first single ”Meltdown” is reminiscent of Kick-era INXS (”That was in our sights without a doubt,” says Thomas), while power ballad ”Someday” opens with piano tinkling that the singer jokingly (but accurately) describes as having a ”Damn Yankees sound. Total ’80s!” The epic, drum-driven ”Fire on the Mountain” (not the Grateful Dead tune) does somewhat evoke Paul Simon’s fusions of pop and world music, though Thomas says that the song’s principal inspiration was Dave Eggers’ 2006 book What Is the What, which concerns the plight of a Sudanese refugee. The most obvious tip of the hat, however, is to Tom Petty on the melancholic country number ”Getting Late,” a ”little ditty about death” that’s likely to end up as the album’s closing track. ”In my heart, Willie Nelson and Tom Petty are it,” says Thomas. ”I have to make records that I like. But I want to feel like they would like them too.” Just as long, presumably, as Petty doesn’t sue him for plagiarism. ”Well, yeah. That would help!”