City Of Black And White
REVIEW BY: Jono Russell
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/30/2009
If you heard a Mat Kearney song on the radio, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a Coldplay single. This would be mainly due to the fact that Kearney's voice is spookily similar to Chris Martin’s, but the similarities run far deeper than that: the understated piano-heavy arrangements and simple chord patterns scream “poor man's Coldplay.”
What did set Kearney apart from The Biggest Band In The World, aside from the slight difference in album sales figures, was his tendency – at least on his major label debut, 2007’s Nothing Left To Lose – to break into the odd rapped verse, not unlike Jason Mraz. A less creative Coldplay combined with Jason Mraz sans supersized ego doesn't sound like a particularly attractive proposition, I'll admit, but Nothing Left To Lose was surprisingly likeable. Forgettable? Yes. But his inoffensive brand of pop-rock, complete with ambiguous references to Christianity not unlike a young U2, had just enough soaring choruses to find its way into countless TV shows.
Surely the prospect of an American Chris Martin, as marketable to the CCM crowd as mainstream audiences (and boosted by Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs and Kyle XY inclusions) would have had record execs begging Kearney to rush another full-length out the door. Bizarrely, it took more than three years for major label LP number two, City Of Black & White, to appear. Was it worth the wait?
In a word, no. The flirtations with hip-hop are abandoned on this record as Kearney throws himself headlong into the kind of glossy, manufactured pop that is tailor-made for Top 40 radio (and also for insomniacs around the world.) It's not that it isn't easy on the ear: there's the usual abundance of pretty string parts and multi-tracked vocal harmonies to keep things as lovely and sweet as possible, but any sonically-appealing hooks are well and truly ruined by the dull and predictable lyrics. "Oh, it's your light / Oh, it's your way / Pull me out of the dark / Just to show me the way," sings Kearney in the chorus of lead single “Closer To Love.”
After five cuts clearly designed with radio in mind, we get to the first ballad of the disc: “New York To California”. It's also where Kearney hits rock bottom, vowing to crawl from New York to California for, surprise, surprise, a (former?) lover. Leaving aside the fact the piano part echoes at least one of his earlier songs, it's here that the lyrics go from bad to downright embarrassing. Perhaps in a bid to emulate Coldplay's technique of stadium singalong-friendly bridges, he produces this gem: "Singing la-la-la-la-la-la / Oh, it's not too far / La-la-la-la-la-la / Oh, to where you are…” You get the point.
There’s not even one track to redeem things. Instead, by the end of it, you're left with a blend of bland pop songs that you'll remember nothing about the moment you've stopped listening. Forget the “poor man's Coldplay” tag; the complete lack of creativity on City Of Black & White suggests Matt Kearney is (fittingly, given the current economic circumstances) now a bankrupt man's Coldplay. A shame, really.