Direct Hits is a series where we talk about random songs that no one remembers but, for whatever reason, hit you directly in the feels whenever you hear them. (This one is actually about an entire album.) Send us your own.
In 2000, following the commercial success of their debut Yourself and Somebody Like You, the Orlando alt-rock band Matchbox 20 “changed” its name to matchbox twenty. That lack of capitalization is not a typo on my part; current references have restored the standard uppercase, but I distinctly remember the trendy, e.e. cummings-style presentation being part of the original adjustment (this article and review back me up on the recollection). Whatever the reason for the minor adjustment, it lent the band a semi-pretentious air of emo self-seriousness that, as an angsty 14-year-old at the time, I was fully into.
Around the time Mad Season was released, in May 2000, Matchbox Twenty (I’m going to go ahead and use the current nomenclature) was approximately #4 on my list of favorite bands at any given time, right behind Barenaked Ladies, Everclear, and the Goo Goo Dolls. These bands sang about suicide, addiction, domestic abuse, and abortion, among other hot topics; Nirvana they were not, maybe, but they still provided me with plenty of dark antidotes to the daily doses of *NSYNC-era bubblegum pop I consumed on top 40 radio.
What my CD collection was perhaps missing, though, was a dose of raw, righteous, at-the-end-of-your-rope anger. And Mad Season delivered on that missing piece. The “mad” in the title more closely resembles the British definition, akin to “crazy” or “unusual,” but the first track, appropriately titled “Angry,” sets the record straight right away:
So scream you, out from behind the bitter ache
Heavy on the memory you need most
Still want love, love’s ugly, smooth and delicate
But not without affection, no, not alone
And instead of wishing that it would get better
Man you’re seeing that you just get angrier
Throughout the album, there are themes of bitterness about dysfunctional relationships (“Crutch,” “Bent,” “Last Beautiful Girl”), relationships that just can’t seem to get started (“Black and White People”), getting dumped on the side of a highway (“Rest Stop”), and feeling out of place in your own life (“Bed of Lies,” “Mad Season,” “The Burn”). Or at least that’s my amateur interpretation. No music lover has taken to Genius to obsessively annotate anything on Mad Season, which doesn’t surprise me and probably doesn’t surprise you either. It yielded a few well-performing singles but mostly ended up being a blip on the band’s timeline, scattered among a bunch of lineup changes, Rob Thomas’ infamous collaboration with Santana, and a move toward a more commercially reliable pop-rock sound. As is the case with so many albums of its time, Mad Season appears to be mostly forgotten.
And yet, when I am feeling just plain irritated about something, this album is often the one I pop into the car stereo. (I no longer have my original copy, but picked up a used one in good condition at a library overstock sale for a dollar.) At the time of my original purchase, sometime in the fall of 2000, I was starting my freshman year of high school and things weren’t going well. My classes were hard, I didn’t get cast in the school musical, the guy I had feelings for wasn’t returning them, and I hated my body – normal teen stuff, to be sure, but it was all happening at once and all of a sudden and I was mad. Nothing was going my way, at a time – oh, those audacious years! – when I felt like I deserved the world.
So Mad Season helped me work through it, in a way that the other bands and albums I loved just didn’t, for whatever reason. Even now, the songs evoke specific times in my life from that year: “Black and White People” is the Friday night football game when I dared to tell that guy how I felt, hoping for a positive outcome. “Bed of Lies” is the dark winter days when several friendships were tested by growing pains. “If You’re Gone” is the Valentine’s Day dance. “Rest Stop” is the bus ride back from my youth group’s trip to New Orleans, trying to sleep on a Greyhound and burying my head in a travel pillow, willing myself to just get over it already.
Sometimes, when I’m wondering if anyone ever felt the same way I did about a particular song that no one else seems to remember, I’ll search YouTube for old dance routines. I was a lyrical dancer in my teens, and on boring summer days, I would choreograph my own combinations to be performed for no one but myself, usually to deep cuts: Barenaked Ladies’ “What a Good Boy,” Goo Goo Dolls’ “Acoustic #3,” etc. There are lots of songs that many dancers have used, but most of them are not the ones I’ve loved. A few years ago, however, I found this one, set to “Last Beautiful Girl.”
I have no professional opinion on whether the dancing is any good, but boy, do I ever see myself in this anonymous performer: a tall girl with long brown hair, jumping and spinning and working out all her feelings to a Matchbox Twenty song. I’m not sure anything sums up my teenage years better than that.