Matthew Good's second solo album White Light Rock & Roll Review was released in June 2004. This follow-up to 2003's Avalanche was billed as Matthew Good's "return to rock" after Avalanche's lush, orchestral sound. However, it rapidly becomes clear when listening to the album that Matthew Good isn't returning to anything he's done before. Rather, he used the stripped-down instrumentation and back-to-basics approach to explore a variety of styles: punk, blues, roots rock, and, most surprisingly, country.
One common thread is used to tie these disparate styles together is politics; Matthew Good has always been fairly politically motivated and the combination of being a solo artist and the world events of the last two years have made this more directly evident in his music. In many ways, this album is Avalanche's opposite; sweeping rather than personal, stripped-down rather than lush, raw rather than carefully planned. Most importantly, though, it is tense where Avalanche is calm.
- Put Out Your Lights (2:03)
Punchy and succinct, this opener establishes the initial tone of the album with a blast of distorted guitar and screamed vocals. Punkier than Matthew Good's earlier rockers, it bashes and screeches its way through the listener's skull, meshing with the lyrical description of coercion through forced patriotism.
- Poor Man's Grey (2:22)
Continuing in the same political vein is this song, propelled by a trebly guitar riff and pounding percussion. Slight distortion is applied to the vocals, giving them a megaphone-like quality which is appropriate to the song's message. Like its predecessor, it avoids the grungy fuzz typical of the Matthew Good Band's work in favour of a crisper guitar sound to good effect.
- We're So Heavy (4:35)
The beginning of the album's first stylistic turnaround, this song begins in the same vein as the openers before breaking out into a calmer and more open sound. Soon, it develops into a slow, careful musical progression and then a mournful guitar-and-voice song. The mercurial changes of tone are not jarring or clumsy but rather sound quite natural. Despite this, the song doesn't make as much of an impression as it should, possibly because in the end it isn't especially unified as a whole.
- Empty Road (3:29)
The album now swerves into Blue Rodeo-esque Canuck country, with pedal steel making an appearance alongside a folky clean riff and restrained percussion. The transition works quite well and the relaxed feel seems like a relief after the relentless pace of the album opening.
- Alert Status Red (4:25)
Alert Status Red is the lead-off single, and has a very roots-rock feel, almost reminiscent of John Mellencamp. A roving guitar riff and hand-claps back up a wonderfully-scanned lyric whose rhythmic complement to the rest of the piece is perfect and complete. Unfortunately, this ends at the chorus, "Alert status red, but the sun comes up instead", which is as contrived as the chorus to Avalanche's In A World Called Catastrophe. Fortunately, the verses retain a reasonable depth, so this is not a fatal flaw. Nevertheless, the song succeeds in its criticism of the current 'terrorism scare'.
- Little Terror (3:07)
This song has little to prevent it from being forgettable. The guitar riff is rather nondescript and the lyrics are a dismal failure, making little sense and even less of an impression.
- In Love With A Bad Idea (3:30)
A nice, slightly bluesy riff backs this polemic on the idiocy of 'reality entertainment', inspired by the TV show The Simple Life. Comfortable chord changes and juicy guitars bely the nearly shouted lyrics that accuse those involved of prostituting themselves to 'the American Dream'. It provides a nice segue to the punk of the next song and remains an interesting listen in its own right.
- North American For Life (2:07)
Combining the fury of 21st Century Living with the drive of Load Me Up, this is the most overtly punky song on the album. It sounds two notches too fast and may be the most direct song on this album of direct songs. The lyrics describe the arrogance of the apparent attitude that Americans hold towards the rest of the world.
- Blue Skies Over Bad Lands (8:14)
An atmospheric opening recalls Avalanche's When We Were Hunting Rabbits, but the song quickly diverges by adding bassy electric guitar to the mix rather than strings. This subdued opening carefully builds through a country-tinted ballad to an intense piece of downtempo guitar rock and then into a percussive false climax. While it spends a little too much time in minimal, empty spaces, the stately progression does not stumble but fearlessly proceeds into a mournful guitar solo backed by crashing cymbals before fading away.
- It's Been A While Since I Was Your Man (3:40)
A slightly bluesy song about relationships, as Matthew Good seems to put on every album after Beautiful Midnight. Like its predecessors, it focuses on the vocals and they do not disappoint. Simultaneously tender and intense, the vocals show Matthew Good's strengths in evoking mood.
- Buffalo Seven (3:20)
This song is quite easily the most anthemic thing to ever grace a Matthew Good album. A walking tempo and a catchy guitar hook reminiscent of R.E.M. lead to the the sing-along chorus which is surprisingly breathless. The picture is completed by a prominent pulsing bass line and apt percussion.
- Ex-Pats Of The Blue Mountain Symphony Orchestra/Hopeless (7:45)
Ex-Pats Of The Blue Mountain Symphony Orchestra is a meandering rock song with a notable debt to The Who. In parts, Matthew Good even sounds a bit like Roger Daltrey would sound if he were a Canadian. The song moves fluidly from a grand guitar solo to a quiet acoustic section and back without trouble, and provides an effective close to the album.
However, after a brief period of silence, the hidden track Hopeless comes on. More of a country song than Empty Roads, and also bearing some early rock and roll touches, it sounds like a throwback to an earlier day. Remarkably, it both works and retains comfortable connection to other works by Matthew Good.
While not as interesting or innovative as Avalanche, White Light Rock & Roll Review is an interesting step forward for Matthew Good. It is a worthwhile listen, even though it is not the end-to-end hard rock album it was billed as.
This writeup is copyright 2004 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/ .