The Matinee’s 2017 album ‘Dancing On Your Grave’ was a great record. Its eleven songs bounced between upbeat pop rock tunes, retro rockers and music with an obvious nod to Americana, but felt like a really cohesive listen. Between some great chorus hooks, a heartfelt vocal and some fine guitar work, it showed off a mature sounding band whose songs could’ve existed at any point between the 90s and the present.
This long overdue follow up is something of a very welcome return. It has a sound that fans will love but ventures deeper into Americana influences. It manages to make that small change without losing the band’s natural affinity for a great tune, and ‘Road To Hell’, in particular, makes for an easy entry point for first time listeners. With an intro loaded with chiming guitars and crying slide, it makes an impression immediately, and as it settles into a verse showcasing a simple vocal, the friendly arrangement shows off a real sense of heart. Better still, a harmony loaded chorus, set against a mid tempo, isn’t shy in sharing it’s obvious love for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and specifically that legendary band’s early 90s sound. There’s a lot about this track that could be derived from one of ‘Into The Great Wide Open’s deeper cuts, and with a couple of great lead guitar breaks, it straddles the gap between Americana and radio friendly rock-pop with ease. The more soulful ‘Cut To Pieces’ is a great showcase for the bass, but also features some really smart lead guitar courtesy of Matt Rose and Geoff Petrie, who are clearly happy flaunting a very 70s sound, somewhere behind an aching vocal from Matt Layzell. As with ‘Road To Hell’, there’s definitely something here that feels instantly familiar, but by employing the old maxim “everything old is new again”, there’s nothing about The Matinee’s sound that seems tired in any way. Working through this slightly blues and soul inflected piece of roots rock, you’ll really get a sense of a band with a brilliant grasp of old school sounds, and with a mix of stabbed keys and very retro electric piano underscoring a great melody throughout, it shares one of the band’s most pleasing and full bodied arrangements this time out.
Those who love the band’s purer Americana sound will love ‘Year of Nothing’, a tune that shares a mournful steel guitar, crying above a set of gentle chords and shuffling drums. Adopting a very “brown” sound, there’s a real warmth coming through the intermittent bass and some perfect harmonies, employed brilliantly to sell a tune that seems happy to amble. Mayzell’s vocals are very strong here, but he’s outshone by the country influenced guitar work and generally rootsy sound. It’s the kind of track that deserves to be a fan favourite. Better yet, the country pop ballad, ‘The Way She Goes’ slows everything to a mellow groove where a gentle rhythm underscores a world of harmonies, crying guitar and a fragile lead vocal that taps into the heart of the genre. This shows the band going into a country sound more deeply than on the ‘Dancing On Your Grave’ material, but at the same time, it’s a natural shift for them, and for anyone who’s followed The Matinee since the beginning, this will be a favourite track in time. Showing that their retro rock edge is still there, the track’s extended coda is rather lovely, since it shares a twin guitar set up, weaving leads in and out of each other, first sounding like something from the rootsier end of the Mark Knopfler catalogue, but eventually adding a neo-psychedelic touch to the Americana mood, almost like something from the Grateful Dead or Chris Robinson Brotherhood.
In a change of mood, ‘Shake It’ applies a 50s rock ‘n’ roll influence, without ever losing the band’s roots-oriented feel. The rhythms come squarely from a world of early Elvis, but the bass sound, twanging guitar and wavering vocal still retain a country influence. If that isn’t enough to remind you that this is still The Matinee you love, you’ll find a deftly applied dobro – stepping up for a great solo – and some decent harmonies fleshing out a throwaway, fun hook. Toughening up, ‘Stay Gold’ opens with a brooding riff, but that turns out to be a massive red herring, since it doesn’t feature again until the final bars. The rest of the six minute epic settles for a semi-acoustic country rocker fleshed out with strong with harmonies in a style that is very familiar, particularly if you’ve spent time with albums by the likes of the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, but The Matinee’s take on an older sound is perfect. Between the countrified riffs, you’ll find a returning crying lead, some understated organ, a bluesy nod or two and even a massive a cappella section that harks back to even older Appalacian melodies. If you ever needed a showcase of all of The Matinee’s influences and talents in one small package, this is it.
Elsewhere, the title cut works a solid rhythm driven by an upfront bass, which sounds great when augmented by subtle guitar flourishes and another smooth vocal. In an unexpected move, this sounds a little like an old Paul Carrack/Ace tune with a country twist, whilst ‘Train Rolls On’ scales everything back to deliver a haunting ballad where Mayzell’s vocals glide over sparse guitar work, before the number blossoms into something that could’ve been inspired by The Band and one of The Black Crowes’ more mournful numbers. It doesn’t ever push The Matinee out of their obvious comfort zone, but for those who enjoy the subtler textures in Rose and Petrie’s playing, there’ll be much to love here.
Potentially better than all of those tracks, ‘Bad Addiction’ really captures the band’s natural flair for retro rock. On this album highlight, The Matinee reawaken the ghosts of Faces ballads and recycle the softer moments of the early Black Crowes catalogue with flawless results. Layzell sells an aching tune with vocal precision; Petrie steps in with a brilliantly retro guitar solo, and it’s clear that both musicians really feel the melody. …And that’s before some very old fashioned keys sound as if the legendary Garth Hudson has stepped in. With a great guitar twang used effectively to fill out the verse, a compliment of soulful backing vocals and a timeless melody worked effectively throughout, it has all the makings of a retro sounding classic. In so many ways, ‘Bad Addiction’ seems like a song you’ve always known, but that just makes it so much better. It’s a track that’s strong enough alone to make ‘Change of Scene’ worth checking out, but the whole album is superb.
Six years is a long time between releases unless you’re a world renowned act, but The Matinee sound like they’ve felt the benefit of the time away. ‘Change of Scene’ isn’t just better than ‘Dancing On Your Grave’ – which was great in its own way – it’s easily the band’s finest, most mature work to date. It’s a record that deserves to bring their sound to a wider audience, and one that shows how classic sounding pop/rock and Americana just never gets old. Highly recommended.