Dave Matthews is one of rock's most underrated Pretty Complex Dudes – as horny as Lil Wayne, as troubled as Thom Yorke, able to growl "war is the most vulgar madness" like the American Sting he's always sort of been. He's got a beige-Baja-shirt rep and a black-turtleneck soul.
The first DMB record in more than three years (and the first in over a decade produced by Steve Lillywhite, who helmed their mid-Nineties albums) serves up the Matthews magic in all its musically tight, emotionally bumfuzzled splendor: from the sex-as-food funk-pop romp "Belly Belly Nice," to the relationship SOS "The Riff," where Matthews sings, "I don't know the man living in my head/If I don't know the woman sleeping in my bed," to op-eds against political apathy like the fragilely beautiful "Mercy."
Lillywhite's sympathetic production and the rich band interplay, steeped in New Orleans R&B, lithe jazz fusion and nimbly driving jam rock, make for uncluttered songs that at times recall Clinton-era glories (the elegant slow build of "Mercy" is just a hacky-sack flip away from 1996's "Crash Into Me"; it could've soundtracked the shit out of a Friends montage).
And yet, this is no nostalgia trip back to the quad. Even songs that luxuriate in strummy romantic escapism take midlife head-on: "I'm too old to wanna be younger now," the 45-year-old sings on the gingerly intimate "Sweet." He wears his grown-'n-grumpy honesty like a champ.
Listen to Away From The World: