cover of Eric Matthew’s new album The Imagination Stage by Anthony DiFatta
It really hasn’t been that long since the last Eric Matthews album, but it has been a while since he’s released something that reaches the heights of It’s Heavy in Here or Lateness of the Hour. Back then he was proclaimed to be the second coming of the Zombies, Left Banke and Van Dyke Parks all in one. This was for very good reason, his work with Richard Davies in Cardinal put him on the map as an inventive arranger. When It’s Heavy in Here appeared on Sub Pop a year later in 1995, people were throwing around hyperbole like it was the “new pop”. It really wasn’t the ‘new pop’, it’s just that it came out in the midst of the grunge movement which meant that anything that had strings, trumpets, and clarinets was looked upon as totally different and groundbreaking. Add to this that it came out on Sub Pop, and you had a lot of people scratching their heads. It wasn’t only Matthews that was this producing kind of music at the time. A lot of people were tired of big burly guys with long hair, distorted guitars, and raged clothes. This new orchestral pop movement included Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy, the Tindersticks, and Jeremy Enigk, dressing in suave clothes and making music to match their dress. Influenced by Scott Walker and Burt Bacharach this new movement was like a breath of fresh air, or at least something different.
It’s been a few years since Eric Mathews commandeered much press in the rock world, 10 or so to be exact. But, with The Imagination Stage, he’s certainly back to his old form. You can tell from the first warbly piano chords that quickly fade to a killer guitar riff, that this is gonna be a great album. This moody pop beauty, with Mathews smooth tenor croon not sounding at all like s o many years have passed since It’s Heavy In Here. When I first heard the album, I thought he was again being helped by Jason Falkner, who played on both Heavy in Here and Lateness of the Hour. Some of the backing vocals and guitar sounds a bit like Falkner, but it’s all Matthews. He recorded every instrument and voice and loop on this long player. It’s a welcome return and it seems like it may only be the tip of the ice burg. He has another project called Seinking Ships which is a collaboration with Christopher Seink, the album is due soon and promises the appearance of Miki Berenyi of Lush. And then there is the second Cardinal album that he is working on with Richard Davies. He really is back!
Here are a few more songs for context…
mp3: Scott Walker – The Old Man is Back (from Scott 4)
mp3: The Divine Comedy – I Was Born Yesterday (from Liberation)
mp3: Jeremy Enigk – Return of the Frog Queen (from Return of the Frog Queen)
mp3: Tindersticks – City Sickness (from Tindersticks)