Rob Thomas’ point of view will be evident on Pittsburgh stop
Going into his new solo album, “Chip Tooth Smile,” one thing Rob Thomas wanted to accomplish was to make sure there would be no cases of mistaken identity with the record.
Thomas brings his signature sound and some new music to Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center Aug. 27.
That’s not to say there was any confusion that the three previous solo albums by the Matchbox Twenty frontman were the work of Thomas. But particularly with his previous effort, the 2015 release “The Great Unknown,” Thomas thinks a little of himself may have gotten lost in the final product, as he worked with several hit-making co-writers to create a few songs (“Absence of Affection,” “One Shot” and “I Think We’d Feel Good Together”) that fit the frothy pop sound that was happening on Top 40 pop radio at the time.
Thomas’ voice was certainly present on “The Great Unknown,” but the aforementioned songs sounded at least as much like the work of his co-writers.
“What I realized at the end of ‘The Great Unknown’ — and this is no slight to the people that I worked with because they’re all obviously really talented people — but the things that I gravitated toward in that record (and) that I wish that I had held onto for another record were all the ones that I sat down and just wrote by myself, songs like ‘Heaven Help Me’ or songs like ‘The Great Unknown,’ or ‘Pieces,’ songs where I went back to the original well, which is my point of view,” Thomas said in a recent phone interview. “I realized that whatever it is that I’m supposed to do when I write music, it’s supposed to be my point of view and it’s not supposed to be somebody else’s idea of my point of view.”
Back to basics
That realization goes a long way toward explaining the kind of album Thomas has made this time out. “Chip Tooth Smile” does not sound like an attempt to fit into Top 40 radio. Instead, Thomas, 47, returns to more of a singer-songwriter mode and has created songs that feel authentic and often quite personal, as he ponders issues like accepting adult responsibilities, aging and how to live life as a man who no longer calls himself young, but isn’t old yet either.
Going into the “Chip Tooth Smile project, Thomas and his producer, Butch Walker,” decided not to worry about today’s pop trends and make music that happened organically.
“We immediately said we’re not scared if this doesn’t get on the radio. We’re not scared if this doesn’t find that audience,” Thomas explained. “But how great would it be if we found something that made it onto the radio, but it made it onto the radio because it didn’t sound like everything else?”
Being able to block out radio as a consideration is a brave move for any artist, especially one like Thomas, whose voice and songs have been a regular presence on radio for nearly 25 years now.
He got his start with Matchbox Twenty, which exploded onto the rock scene with its 1996 debut album, “You or Someone Like You.” Containing the hits “3 A.M.,” “Push,” “Real World” and “Back 2 Good,” the debut album piled up more than 12 million copies sold in the United States alone. A second album, “Mad Season,” followed in 2000, and topped 4 million copies sold on the strength of the hit songs “Bent” and “If You’re Gone.”
By that time, Thomas had already made an impact outside of Matchbox Twenty by co-writing and singing the Grammy-winning hit “Smooth,” on Carlos Santana’s blockbuster 1999 album, “Supernatural.”
Matchbox Twenty stayed front and center with Thomas over the next few years, before the band members put the group on hiatus to pursue solo projects.
Thomas made an immediate impact as a solo artist. His 2005 album, “Something to Be…,” showcased a more soulful sound and became a platinum-certified hit behind the singles “Lonely No More,” “This Is How a Heart Breaks,” “Ever The Same” and “Streetcorner Symphony.”
A second Thomas solo album, “Cradlesong,” followed in 2009, before Matchbox Twenty reunited to make the “North” album. After touring that album, Thomas made “The Great Unknown.”
“Chip Tooth Smile” avoids the bouncy, glossy pop on “The Great Unknown,” instead favoring ballads and mid-tempo material that is melodic and appealing. The music suits the thoughtful lyrics of songs like “One Less Day” (which celebrates being able to embrace getting older), “Can’t Help Me Now” (about facing up to challenges you have to meet yourself) and “The Man to Hold Water” (about the responsibilities that come with having a son who’s reaching adulthood).
Thomas and his seven-member touring band for this summer should have the versatility to do justice in a live setting to “Chip Tooth Smile” and other songs from Thomas’ catalog.
“I’m out promoting a new record, but at the same time, I’m promoting the last 20 years as well,” Thomas said, explaining the goal of his set list. “So it’s about finding that balance of how this new aesthetic, and these new songs, and these new sounds and flavors kind of fit into and with the other things and how we make it a tapestry.”