It has been three years since DMB released their last album. Big Whiskey and The GrooGrux King was a spirited and heartfelt album, which saw the band finally taking some steps forward after their departure from Steve LIllywhite. Lillywhite was the bands producer for their first three (four if you count the Lillywhite Sessions) and best albums and his departure was felt in their two worst releases (Everyday and Stand Up). So it was a nice change to see DMB progress with GrooGrux and it was great to find out that Lillywhite would be back for their eighth release, Away From the World. So the anticipation was at a fever pitch for the sequel to GrooGrux and the welcome back party for Lillywhite but now the wait is over. About a week ago DMB free streamed their new album on iTunes and after a week of listening it is time to evaluate the newest album from my favorite band.
From the first track to the last it is evident that AFTW is DMB’s attempt to find that “early DMB” sound that has been missing since Busted Stuff. This is a surprise because it seemed that Dave was enjoying the new rock heavy sound of the past few releases. Not to say though that AFTW is a whole heartily attempt at the past but it clearly takes its inspiration from the bands beginnings. The jams are back and finally the band has enjoyed having a violin (Boyd Tinsley is the MVP of AFTW) on board. Songs like Drunken Soldier, Snow Outside, and Belly Belly Nice all feature the elements that made the band so successful. Instead of trying to focus on riffs and constricted flows, DMB lets the music run free and that is the thing I love most about this release. AFTW may not be the last addition to the “Big 4” that we have been looking for but it is a nice change in pace from what we have had the last decade.
As far as the music goes AFTW is a complete success. Except for the very Everyday soundish Rooftop (which is the worst song on the album) the songs all sound good to great. The main core of the band (Matthews, Tinsley, Beauford, and Lessard) are all given equal time to shine and each song is better for it. This isn’t a Dave heavy album as the rest of the band gets time to enhance each track. The additions to the group (Coffin, Ross, and Reynolds) also do a good job of adding to the dimensions of each song. I especially liked how Reynolds doesn’t overpower some of the songs as he kinda did on GrooGrux. Reynolds is used the best way he could have been as he adds more layers to the music. Then there is Lillywhite who is the one producer that gets this band so well. He is able to mix the music in a way that other producers haven’t and gives the album a fresh sound.
AFTW is a lot better as a collection of songs than it is as an album. Some songs just seem so out sync with the rest of the album. Most of the songs work together but songs like Rooftop, Sweet, and Gaucho just seem out of place. Not that they are bad because all of them are good (even Rooftop after 5 listens) but it is hard to see the album as a whole. GrooGrux may not be as complex as AFTW but that album felt like it fit together. Then you have the highlights of the album (Snow Outside and Drunken Soldier), which overshadow the rest of the album. I like every song but none of them stick as well as the catalogue does on the Big 3 or even GrooGrux for that matter. Songs like Gaucho, Belly Full, and Mercy are good on first listen but none of them beg for more attention and that maybe because of Dave’s poor lyrics. This is one of Dave’s worst lyrical albums and maybe even his worse. He just seems to preach too much and none of the lyrics hold the weight of anything on GrooGrux. The lyrics almost distract from the songs. The lyrics on Mercy, Gaucho, and even one of my favorites Drunken Soldier are just too naïve. They sound like they came from a 13-year-old hippie. Say what you want about GrooGrux but that album was lyrically sound. Songs like Squirm and Lying in the Hands of God were some of his best lyrically and his inability to dig deeper into what he is singing about on AFTW is the biggest disappoint of the album. Honestly it is the reason why I won’t come back as much to this release years from now. It just doesn’t do anything for me when Dave says the word love about 200 times during the course of the album. It isn’t a train-wreck (get it, Train sucks) but Dave is getting too used to the mediocre.
AFTW is a good album but the subpar lyrics and the uneven tracks hold it back from being something more. Some say that this is the return for DMB but I’ll take GrooGrux any day. That album was just more adventurous and the highs outmatch (well almost because Snow Outside and the last 4 minutes of Drunken Soldier are amazing) anything on AFTW. It is now almost becoming tiresome to wish and hope for the return of that old DMB. They are probably never coming back but this new band still has a lot of kick in them. Like Everyday, Stand Up, and GrooGrux, AFTW doesn’t measure up to their earlier stuff but there are still a lot of things to love about it. We have some new DMB and that is something to celebrate.
AFTW Songs Ranked
1. Snow Outside
2. Drunken Soldier
3. If Only
5. Belly Belly Nice
6. The Riff
7. Broken Things
10. Belly Full
DMB Albums Ranked
2. Before These Crowded Streets
3. Under the Table and Dreaming
4. Busted Stuff (Lillywhite Sessions)
5. Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King
6. Away From the World
7. Stand Up