Dave Matthews Band's 'Walk Around the Moon' Is Best When It Embraces Cringe

BY Alex HudsonPublished May 30, 2023

Dave Matthews Band don't really do subtlety. Their biggest hit is a horny love song in which Matthews pleads to look up a woman's skirt, and their fan-favourite tunes are giddy funk-jazz-rock jams filled with slogans like inspirational wall decals: "Eat, drink and be merry" and "Celebrate we will, for life is short but sweet for certain." During their best moments — most of which happened in the '90s — they pull it off through through sheer naïve conviction, being brave enough to stare cringe directly in the face.

They're not a band, in other words, particularly well-suited to the more level-headed outlook of maturity. Their recent run of albums have been perfectly fine, as they've stopped trying to reinvent their sound (as they did pop-friendly albums like 2001's Everyday and 2005's Stand Up) and burrowed into their classic style without reaching the same euphoric crescendos as, say, "Tripping Billies" or "#41."

Walk Around the Moon is the band's 10th album overall, and their third since they expanded their lineup from their five-piece origins following the death of saxophonist Leroi Moore in 2008. There are a few new sounds here — prominent vocal harmonies in the chorus of the opening title track, electronic snare hits and a soft synth hum on the saccharine "Looking for a Vein" — but for the most part, this is familiar DMB.

"Madman's Eyes" is the latest example of the band dabbling in Arabic scales (see also: "Minarets," "The Last Stop"), as Matthews sells his slightly clumsy plea for gun control with sheer gusto, stretching to the very top of his range to howl, "Don't sacrifice another child." "Monsters" is similarly lyrically simplistic, as Matthews evokes Jesus, Satan and the monsters hiding in the closet, with guitarist Tim Reynolds's spacious tones acting as an effective complement for the song's sweet, wistful hooks.

The band lose their way on a few too many down-tempo numbers, with "The Ocean and the Butterfly," "Something to Tell My Baby" and "Singing from the Windows" not leaving much of an impression. The grating, half-written cabaret rock of "After Everything" picks up the energy but not the quality, with Matthews and keyboardist Buddy Strong not so much duetting as screeching overtop of one another, their slapstick wails not disguising the lack of a proper vocal melody. 

Walk Around the Moon never reaches the highs of the band's classic trilogy of albums (1994's Under the Table and Dreaming, 1996's Crash and 1998's Before These Crowded Streets), but it does offer at least one moment that gets close: "It Could Happen," a perfectly syrupy acoustic rocker draped in stately piano, grand orchestral swells, and Matthews reflecting on the miraculousness of life itself. He gruffly croons, "It's like we awoke as if we were dreaming" — genuinely heart-stirring stuff, full of the naïve wisdom of someone who gets stoned and blows their own mind with the beauty of the world.

That wide-eyed wonder is DMB's sweet spot, and it's a welcome reminder of they appeal they still hold for those brave enough to embrace the cringe.
(Bama Rags Recordings)

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