How is this possible? How is that Come Tomorrow, the latest album from the Dave Matthews Band, which will be released on June 8th, is only their ninth full length studio album? That just doesn’t seem possible. Dave Matthews Band have been around forever, for (checks Google, then nods head in agreement) a long effin’ time. I know that their output has slowed some in recent years, but man, I thought for sure that when they announced the release of Come Tomorrow, it was their fifteenth album. We’re not even in double digits yet, though.
Come Tomorrow is in fact only their ninth full length release. Remember Two Things, which was released independently in 1993 doesn’t count because while your memory might tell you it was also a album comprised of a studio tracks, it was actually mostly a live album, with only of the two tracks included being studio jawns, “Minarets” and “Seek Up.” It’s a gray area album for the band, existing by it’s lonesome in it’s own category; not one of their nine studio albums or one of seventy-eight (holy shit!) live albums. A consolidation prize for Remember Two Things is that it’s definitely in the top three of DMB albums that holds a special place in any long-time fan’s heart.
While we are speaking of ranking, how would the band’s eight albums released prior to the impending arrival of Come Tomorrow be ranked? Dude, I’m so happy you asked. Crazy.
8. Everyday (2001)
Going into 2001, fans of the band appreciated their sprawling, wide as a prairie sound; that the band sounded like an international, joy-filled carnival. While the band had yet to fully capture their energetic live show in the studio (who has?,) they had come close with 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets. That album was then followed up with Everyday, which by all accounts, couldn’t have been more different than what had come previously and couldn’t have been further away from what fans had come to love from the band.
Instead of songs that meandered and wandered from section to section and instrument to instrument, the album was tight and constrained. It was as if the studio had drained all of the life from the band and the product was a machine-like copy of the Dave Matthews Band. The album has good bones to it though, and if you squint, you can see the band that existed pre-Everyday. But it’s a challenge to hear it.
7. Away from the World (2012)
Hey, at least this album sounds like the Dave Matthews Band. So that’s a positive. Unfortunately it’s probably the least known of the band’s eight studio albums. It debuted at number one, but it also had the lowest sales numbers of an album since Crash. That stat is kind of bunk though because even in 2012, no one was really buying albums anymore. We’ll give them a pass there. Away from the World was a reunion of sorts, as it was their first album since Before These Crowded Streets to be produced by Steve Lillywhite, who had been instrumental in helping hone and craft the band’s sound in their first few releases.
6. Stand Up (2005)
Stand Up is the last Dave Matthews Band album to feature their original saxophonist LeRoi Moore and it’s also their funkiest effort, with songs that have a certain spice to them not totally heard before. It’s also a tight album, but not tight in the way Everyday is. Stand Up is tight in that it’s a concentrated effort, with only two songs that pass the five minute mark. It’s an act of determination, of a band having a goal and determining the best and most efficient way to accomplish that goal.
At the time of it’s release, I think it’s fair to say that the band was kind of in need of a change, had maybe gotten a little stale and they definitely take some swings and big cuts on Stand Up. Some of them work, some don’t.
Such is life.
5. Busted Stuff (2002)
Little bit of history is required here as Busted Stuff was actually a reclamation project of sorts, a salvaging of material originally written in 1999 and 2000 with Lillywhite for a follow-up to Before These Crowded Streets. Halfway through recording, the project was shelved by RCA, as the label didn’t feel confident in the material, songs Matthews later described as “sad bastard songs.” Matthews admits to drinking pretty heavily during that time, which led to the dark and bleak tone of the album. It’s with all of this in mind that Everyday kind of makes some sense, as it was an attempt at a course-correction for a band seemingly lost at sea. In March of 2001, the sessions done with Lillywhite magically appeared on the Internet and that, coupled with the lukewarm reception given for Everyday, created a hunger for those songs to be officially released, hence Busted Stuff, which consisted of nine tracks from the ill-fated Lillywhite sessions and two new songs.
4. Crash (1996)
Regardless of how it actually sounded, Crash was in a tough spot when it was released in 1996. It had been two years since the release of the band’s major label debut, Under the Table and Dreaming, that proved to be their break through album and much was expected of the follow-up album. There was a lot on that first album that legitimately sounded like nothing people had ever heard before, so it’s then completely reasonable to realize that following that would be a near insurmountable task.
Crash wasn’t a stinker, but the vibe of the album is different than Under the Table and Dreaming. You can almost feel the pressure the band was under and the oversight that comes with raised expectations. Of course, the album also features a handful of songs that would become classics for the band, so you know, they got that going for them, which is nice.
3. Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King (2009)
2009’s Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King was the Dave Matthews Band emerging from the wilderness to remind their fans, both young and old, why they had fallen in love with them in the first place. For the first time in almost a decade, the band produced an album that actually sounded like fans wanted them to sound. The album sounds alive, as if the band had suddenly been rejuvenated, despite the sudden loss of Moore. Moore was replaced by members of the band’s touring outfit, Jeff Coffin on saxophone and Rashawn Ross on trumpet, and as a result, the horns sound bigger than they had before. Released fifteen years after Under the Table and Dreaming, the album ends up being an impressive feat of reinvention and rebirth for a band that could have rested on it’s laurels, but instead strove to prove to the world that it still had some gas left in the tank.
2. Under the Table and Dreaming (1994)
So many times, when ranking a band’s albums, that first big debut album, finds itself at the number one spot and even though this isn’t the case here, I think it’s more realistic to say this and Before These Crowded Streets are 1A and 1B. Under the Table and Dreaming, when it was released in 1994, was a breath of fresh air and a shot across the bow of the last few days of grunge and the hey day of the gangster rap era. Everything was just serious back then. It’s as if all of music had looked at the rampant absurdity of the 1980s and collectively both shaken it’s head in disbelief and vowed to be better and more mature than those that had come before.
Which is fine, to an extent.
At some point it was worth noting that music should be fun and a release, two things that Under the Table and Dreaming proved to be, starting right out of the gate with a dynamic album opener, “The Best of What’s Around.” There are so many great songs on this album, whether it’s the kick your shoes off “What Would You Say,” the meditative “Satellite,” the iconic “Ants Marching” or the legendary “Jimi Thing.” This was a statement release by the Dave Matthews Band and it’s a statement that will no doubt live on long after they finally hang it up.
1. Before These Crowded Streets (1998)
Before These Crowded Streets is a massive album. Listening to it is akin to going on the best magical journey with some of your dearest friends. It travels through moods and atmospheres, genres and inspired instrumentation and musical choices. It’s sheer force of will is only magnified when compared to the album that came before it, Crash, but it’s also an album whose greatness transcends the need for context. The album’s heart lies within the sprawling opus “Crush” but it’s pulse can be taken in the joyous “Stay (Wasting Time,)” a song that will always have a place in the world as long as there is summer and backyards and cold beverages and good friends.
The band’s long career, legendary live shows and the predictable ups and downs that naturally accompany both have somewhat overshadowed and clouded the legacy of Before These Crowded Streets. But with the album being as confident as it is, it doesn’t need constant adulation to tick. I bet that if pressed, any DMB fan would probably admit it’s their favorite album of the band’s, even though Under the Table and Dreaming might mean more to them emotionally.
But again, 1A and 1B.