Album: Before These Crowded Streets
Artist: The Dave Matthews Band
Release Year: 1998
The Dave Matthews Band was one of the artists that came out of the mid-90’s singer/songwriter comeback. Along with bands like Counting Crows, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Sheryl Crow the Dave Matthews Band brought back an emphasis on the songwriting and musicianship that was the antithesis of the grunge movement that ruled the early half of the decade. While a number of the bands memorable hits came from their album Crash in which the title track is a staple of any mid-90’s playlist, Before These Crowded Streets highlights the diversity and musical prowess of the band.
DMB was a band that I initially liked and then found boring when I listened past their radio hits. It wasn’t until a few years later that I gained a newfound appreciation of the music and the feel that the band puts out. Any metalhead can tell you that you cant be “That” guy all the time and sometimes you just need something to chill out too that is not loud and abrasive. Sometimes you need to expand your musical horizons to something that some may find odd or outside your understanding.
DMB manages to fit a strange yet needed niche in the musical landscape. They provide a soundtrack that can be upbeat, sorrowful, swooning, and floating. Composed of an odd mix of musicians including the standard guitar, bass, drums center and add the dynamics of an electric violinist and a horn player. The Dave Matthews Band set itself apart not only in the tonality produced by the combination of instruments but also the level of musicianship which they brought to the fore. Dave Matthews himself is a great guitarist and songwriter whose guitar parts make your fingers rebel when trying to learn.
The albums tracks cover a broad spectrum of moods and tones. From the upbeat yet floating opener “Pantala Naga Pampa” to the moody slow closer “Spoon” the musical canvas is filed with subtle imagery and varying dynamics. There were a few singles released from this album but they didn’t manage the mainstream success of the tracks from The aforementioned Crash album. That is not to say that the songs were not strong musically or lyrically but it does highlight the shift in focus of popular music from the strange stew of the mid-90’s to the more pop dominated latter years of the decade.
While the pop starlets, boy bands, and Nu Metal were the powerful force in the late 90’s, The Dave Matthews Band managed to maintain a large loyal fanbase and continue to produce albums of good quality today. Before These Crowded Streets is one of the strange offshoots of popular music that was present but ultimately got lost in the shuffle of the musical landscape in 1998 but the album still holds up today.
Standouts on the album include the upbeat “Rapunzel” which has excellent drum work from Carter Beauford working sonically interesting fills into the bits of the song not filled with double stops. Frontman Dave Matthews manages to write playful love songs with different feels throughout the album.
“The Last Stop” puts a middle eastern feel to good use with both the music and vocals following a flowing open motif that brings images of sandy deserts and blowing winds to mind. The lyrical and musical melodies intertwine throughout a good portion of the song but stray enough to not feel like the entire song is made up of a single theme.
“Stay (Wasting Time)” is another playful song that spins a wonderful narrative of affection over an upbeat poppy musical grounding that highlights the horn section. This song shows the ability for the band to produce radio friendly songs while maintaining their unique style. Another song that makes good work of the airy string/brass combo in the pre-chorus helps to sell the imagery of a hot day of hanging out with your significant other outside on the stoop.
“Crush” is quite possibly my favorite song on the entire album. This song brings elements of jazz and showcases Dave Matthews playing an electric guitar which is a rare stay from his solid acoustic guitar work. This song always gets me in the ‘feels’ with its spinning chorus vocal line and laid back groove track that shows the strength and timing of the rhythm section. The lyrics speak of longing and love that is often felt in the intense beginnings of a relationship.
“The Dreaming Tree” is a slower song with a serious message. Harkening back to the jam band roots and environmentally conscious minds of the band, the song narrates an early warning of global warming as well as the effects of industrialization on the resources of the earth. The song was a strong warning about the often overlooked impact of human interaction that causes such drastic change. The narrative shows how, lyrically, Dave Matthews is both a man of his time as well as a man ahead of his time in regard to a social conscious that needs to be heard.
Before These Crowded Streets stands up musically 20 years later as the themes of love and loss are always current. Often albums from the 90’s get dated purely by their lyrical content and themes but this album manages to remain fresh and prescient in the face of a changing world that manages to still deal with the same struggles that it did two decades ago.
Musically the album also continues to remain fresh. Great songwriting hardly ever ages when it defies the genres and popular trends of the time when it was originally released. While a majority of the acts of the time that shared a similar vein of music have passed to the ‘nostalgia act’ circuit, DMB manages to continue to draw huge crowds and demand as their music transcends the constraints of the musical times they shared with other acts.
This album is great when you need something to fill in the background while concentrating on a project. It is great when you need something to relax to. It is great when you want something to listen to but are tired of the usual fair in your playlist rotation. It’s just a great album for all environments and moods. This is why Before These Crowded Streets is a 90’s album that refuses to age.