Ah, the late '90's. Such a wonderful time it was:
Having graduated from high school, I was exploring myself, freshly released into the world.
Bill Clinton was still president.
The world seemed more peaceful in my blissful ignorance.
New episodes of The Simpsons were still clever and far less of the parody of it's former self then it is now.
My old Toyota Camry still had a working A/C. Well, for a little while...
Oh, and Dave Matthews still put good music on record.
I don't know what happened Dave. Though your live shows still soar with interminable energy, your albums since 1998's Before These Crowded Streets have never quite regained the same level of magnificence. Maybe its because you dropped producer Steve Lillywhite. Maybe its because you sold out to your record label and relegated your band-mates to serving supporting roles on tape to become more radio-friendly. Maybe you just simply lost your Mojo.
Regardless - during your creative zenith, you produced a masterpiece - one that helped shape who I am today. For that, I am always a fan.
The reason why Before These Crowded Streets is my favorite of the DMB '90's canon is because of its concept. His other two albums from this period (1994's Under the Table and Dreaming and 1996's Crash) may contain overall better collections of songs, and may even be more enjoyable to listen to from beginning to end, but the intellectual approach in 'Streets is where the appeal lies.
This is my personal interpretation of what I experience:
The album is a reminiscence. The way it is formed represents memories woven together by a conversation between old friends. Take a look at the cover, for instance. You see a bustling city street (crowded?) at dusk where the movement is blurred - the passage of time perhaps. Embossed over it (before?) are stains from a drink of some kind. For the sake of this exercise, lets say its from coffee since it stains well, but also because old friends getting together are so likely to be inclined for a coffee outing. I'll admit its a stretch, but if there is one thing true of our society - we adore caffinated beverages, especially amidst our old friends and at dusk. Anyway, the image as a whole is quite poetic. I like how the coffee stains sort of imply that time is relative to our perception of it and how memories so often get lost in the crowded street. It takes our own initiative to acknowledge them.
One thing that is only natural when getting together with old friends that you haven't seen in a while is a pouring out of, "hey remember whens." Its always a treat to bask in the glory days of the past. The conversation is boundless and never reaches a dull moment brushing on topics that segue effortlessly and endlessly for hours. We all have had these discourses with others, and they are universally cherished the most.
With all that said, I'll reiterate - Before These Crowded Streets is one of these conversations expressed in song. It begins with a short first track, setting an eager pace. Pantala Naga Pampa is a greeting of sorts before it jumps into the jazzy Rapunzel. The topic shifts after a short meandering segue and the harmonic minor scale of The Last Stop is unleashed. Before These Crowded Streets features Dave at his most political - Don't Drink The Water, his most sappy - Stay, and his most threatening - Halloween. Each of these songs creates a completely different atmosphere to become absorbed within.
After the rush of despair from The Stone, enters the album's biggest hit Crush - a bluesy love song with one of Boyd Tinsley's greatest fiddle solos. Dreaming Tree is an oft overlooked gem - its a passive ambiance of speculation and regret. The conversation turns bittersweet with Pig, perhaps expressing the tone defining a reason for not getting together with old friends more often. Alanis Morissette's guest spot on the album's final tune is a pleasant surprise. She is the friend that didn't make it to the reunion, but still a part of the experience in spirit. Though it has no credit, an un-named song caps the album almost as a loving goodbye. It leaves you with a particular brand of sadness, but certainly quite fulfilled. Its just like a perfect conversation with old friends and observes the distinction of leaving you affected like a classic album should.
I listen to Dave Matthews on a far rarer occasion then I once did what with all the hundreds of other songs artists I have collected on my iTunes, and his embarrassing collection of frat boy and teeny-bopper fans. As an artist, he hasn't lost his class or his talent - only the dynamic that left me blown away. However, I feel like DMB is comfort music.
I hadn't listened to Before These Crowded Streets in quite sometime. It was a pleasure to revisit with my good ole friend and remember the good times. Perhaps Dave, someday we will rise again to create new memories and look at each other more fondly on this one sweet world once again.