I am fully aware that Matchbox 20 probably deserve to be regarded as an abomination to ‘90s alternative rock. I am also fully aware that despite being massively popular, Yourself Or Something Like You does not deserve to go in to the pantheon of great ‘90s alt-rock albums. Yet, I can’t help but get a warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear songs like “Real World” or “3 AM”.
You see, I have a bunch of childhood memories of riding around in my mom’s mini-van, listening to these kinds of pop-friendly rock songs on Seattle’s own Star 101.5 and thinking that this was basically what rock music sounded like. So forgive me if I’m unable to effectively use my superior tools of critical analysis and hindsight to cut through the thick haze of nostalgia that hangs over an album like this.
Album: Yourself Or Someone Like You
Artist: Matchbox 20
Release Date: October 1, 1996
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 12 Million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves Rounded Edges. Also, America REALLY loves the song “Smooth”.
It’s been well documented that the early nineties were a pretty undeniably awesome time for rock music, as Nirvana and grunge exploded in to the national spotlight and effectively made it possible for bands that would’ve formerly seemed too “raw” or “edgy” to be considered commercially viable. I don’t want to get into the specifics, but long story short—Cobain’s suicide and a bunch of other factors led to the bottom falling out of the grunge scene, and left a disillusioned public grasping for something to fill the hole left by Nirvana and the other deteriorating Seattle bands.
In the wake of the Seattle scene’s implosion came a bunch of bands that I’ve heard aptly described as “bubble-grunge”. Bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Third Eye Blind, The Goo Goo Dolls, and yes, Matchbox 20, all of whom had some of that alt-rock raggedness that the kids wanted, just in a glossier package. These bands tend to get overlooked in terms of credibility, but perhaps they were just the right cup O’ Joe that alternative nation needed in order to nurse this grunge rock hangover.
However, that doesn’t really explain why out of all the alternative pop-rockers that emerged in the mid-to-late ‘90s, Matchbox 20 were crowned the champions in terms of album sales. Because when I listen to this album, I hear two pretty infectious singles (“3 AM”, “Real World”), a kind of infectious but mostly annoying single (“Push”), and then a bunch of decent to kinda generic rock songs. But when you take into account the existence of the song “Smooth”, a subsequent collaboration between Santana and Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas… Well, there you go. There’s your answer. That’s why this was popular.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
When the atomic bomb of a single known as “Smooth” was unleashed onto pop radio in 1999, Yourself Or Someone Like You was the only place someone could hear a full album’s worth of music by that song’s singer, Mr. Rob Thomas. And yes, “Smooth” did cause a lot of middle-aged people to buy Santana’s Supernatural album. But with “Smooth” being the massively massive hit single that it was (Billboard named it the number two single in the history of the Hot 100), there couldn’t help but be a trickle down effect that flowed into Yourself Or Someone Like You. Which gives this album the dubious distinction of not even featuring it’s most important single.
As for the songs that are actually on the album, even the singles aren’t super remarkable, but I think there’s something to be said about the durability of ‘90s golden-era alternative rock. Maybe it’s just because I happen to be fairly prone to liking this kind of music, but even in a watered down package like we get here, the results are still occasionally enjoyable.
Also, the no-nonsense production on Yourself Or Someone Like You serves it pretty well in retrospect. Which derives from the fact that simply-produced guitar-based rock albums will always hold up, even if it’s a blatant rip-off of something that was already done better by countless other bands, as is the case with Matchbox 20. Yet because it’s a simply-produced guitar album, it doesn’t sound half as kitsch or dated as it probably should. It’s the same reason CCR and Rolling Stones albums still sound really great, and it’s why I believe a guitar-based album like Japandroids’ Celebration Rock will still sound pretty great decades from now.
Would I Pay Money For This?
Perhaps if I was in the middle of some sort of cross-country road trip, and in a cheesy ‘90s kind of mood. And maybe if the device that plugs my iPod in to my car stereo somehow broke, and I had to find something to listen to in the bargain bin of a nearby used Bookstore, because God knows I’d find this CD there. So yeah, maybe under those very specific circumstances.
Also, is it weird that I’ve always imagined the guy on the cover being that fat guy from old stock film footage who gets blasted in the stomach with a cannonball?
Next Time On The People’s Albums: I’ve got a whole lotta awesome on my hands as I get my lemon squeezed by Led Zeppelin II.