Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes you’re drawn to albums you don’t even necessarily like.
For the longest time I had a love/hate relationship with Matt Nathanson. He made writing amazing songs look too easy. When I first heard Some Made Hope I wanted to drop everything and write an album just like it, but before I could Modern Love came out and I wanted to drop everything all over again.
Right when I thought he could do no wrong, the man released Last of the Great Pretenders, his worst record, in my opinion, in the last ten years. It’s by far the hardest for me to listen all the way through (I can hardly stand “Kinks Shirt”) and has taken the longest to acquire a taste for. Yet when I least expect it, “Earthquake Weather” calls out to me.
For all my bantering I can’t deny I love this album’s San Francisco backdrop. I’m accustomed to bands like Transit, The Wonder Years, or Into It. Over It. displaying a strong sense of hometown pride but this is the first record I’ve heard this centered on the Bay Area. There’re Berkeley basements, rocky waters of Alcatraz, summers in San Francisco, and so much more.
Nathanson, tired of being misunderstood, ventured to write his most honest album to date by not shying away from the specifics. But for all his attention to detail, Last of the Great Pretenders is a remarkably less sexual record than Modern Love.. Vocally and lyrically, he’s as golden as ever. Songs like “Last Days of Summer in San Francisco” and “Kill the Lights” remind me why I fell in love with him in the first place. But, despite the deviation of sound I’ve grown to love, I think it’s the fact I don’t naturally like this album that keeps me coming back to it. With every listen I appreciate this record a bit more, see a bit more clearly what he’s doing, and, oddly enough, find myself wanting to drop everything all over again and write an album like it.