Guilty Pleasures, Round One: Barry Manilow (2) vs. Matchbox Twenty (15)
EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. With 32 seeded contestants (see all the matchups), this tournament is sure to change hearts, minds, and lives for weeks to come. Read/listen to the following, and then cast your vote in the poll after the jump; reader comments will be used in subsequent rounds, so we encourage you to also post a comment explaining why you chose the way you did. Note: In case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore. Thank you.
I’m probably not the right person to talk about Barry Manilow. It seems to me that in order to fully appreciate the man’s genius, you had to grow up in a household where lots of parents and older chain-smoking aunts liked to get drunk and jiggle awkwardly to “Copacabana” before the night inevitably ended with “Weekend in New England” and everyone weeping into their peppermint schnapps. This in no way resembles my childhood. And so all those sweeping symphonic backdrops, all the bleeding-heart emotion, the glassily unadorned vocals, the hair — oy, I just don’t get it. I also suspect it’s not a coincidence that America embraced fondue and Manilow at approximately the same time.
Nowadays, he’s headlining Vegas, of course, and actually looks like someone’s older, chain-smoking aunt. Preserved in this cultural amber, he could probably go on forever. So here’s what I got: I feel guilty that I’ve had “Can’t Smile Without You” on repeat for the past 15 minutes, without realizing it was on repeat. I derive great pleasure from the fact that Barry sings a song called “I Write the Songs” that he did not in fact write. And now, since dozens upon dozens of you EW readers named him your top guilty pleasure, I turn the floor over to you. — WP
Jeez. Between this and the Hootie entry today, I think I have to admit I miss the ’90s. Listening to music was so much easier then! I wasn’t a music critic yet — in fact, during the heyday of Matchbox Twenty (WE WOULD LIKE YOU TO SPELL IT OUT NOW PLS), I was doing manual labor in Arkansas, and all that mattered was getting the Top 40 station out of Hot Springs to come in clear on cloudy afternoons. The opening chords of “Push” can whip me right back to those halcyon days, uncluttered by indie elitism, when I bought CDs via Columbia House and/or Wal-Mart, watched videos on VH1’s “Insomniac Music Theater,” and the internet didn’t really do anything yet. And I’ll go ahead and admit it: I kind of miss these songs. Or at least the ability to enjoy them without shame.
This is not to say that missing Matchbox Twenty (SRSLY, IT IS NOT A NUMERAL ANYMORE OK THNX) is anything worth losing sleep over. Their songs are overproduced entities churned out factory-style — tunes that could have been recorded by virtually any middle-of-the-road band from the past two decades. They’re also full of sturm und drang that far outweighs their subject matter: it’s just not that hard to be a white rock star in America, but with his matted hair and perpetually hangdog expression, Rob Thomas has always struck me as the kind of guy whose leather jacket smells of sadness. Were there plenty of other bands with a stronger jawline (so to speak) that I could have included in this slot? Sure. But I defend my decision to include these gentlemen for the following five reasons:
1) I downloaded their recent greatest-hits release Exile on Mainstream this morning, and eight of the songs immediately put a smile on my face. The other ten I immediately discarded.
2) They named their recent greatest-hits release Exile on Mainstream.
3) In 2003 or thereabouts, Rob Thomas wrote an essay for GQ about being the most hated man in music. It had the exact blend of pride and self-deprecation that John Mayer so aggressively strives for and so often overshoots, and it made me think what I’d always mistaken for dour sincerity was in fact just Thomas trying not to crack up. And then I decided, no, that’s dour sincerity.
5) Someone put banjo on “Unwell.” Banjo! It secretly pleases me! Why? I don’t know. And that, my lovelies, is the definition of a guilty pleasure. — WP
Photo Credit: Manilow: Everett Collection