By Michael B. Murphy
After the release of Matthew Good’s “Lights of Endangered Species” album in 2011, many fans of the Canadian musician wondered if Good had fallen too far down the rabbit hole of complex and intricately arranged alternative rock music. Would he ever release a more easily accessible album that harkened back to his earlier work?
On Sept. 24, Good answered that question affirmatively when he released “Arrows of Desire,” a stripped-down rock record that, sonically and lyrically, more closely resembles the work of his former group The Matthew Good Band than his later and more experimental solo releases.
When Good announced earlier this year that he would be making a return to an earlier and more commercially viable sound on “Arrows of Desire” – the title of which was taken from a line found in the William Blake poem “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time” – many fans wondered if this was a commercial rather than a creative decision.
Though the songs found on “Arrows of Desire” are rather straightforward, to say Good sacrificed his creativity in making this record would be way off the mark.
Unlike “Lights of Endangered Species” – which was heavily influenced by modern and big band jazz as well as the post rock sounds of Explosions in the Sky – “Arrows of Desire” was birthed out of Good’s love for the alternative rock music of the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s.
Good has stated in several interviews that his rediscovery of such bands as The Afghan Whigs and The Pixies was what inspired him to make his latest record.
As always the case with Matthew Good songs, the lyrics on “Arrows of Desire” are unapologetically politically charged.
The title track, inspired by the US military’s continued use of drones in the Middle East, tells the story of an arrow hurtling through the air, sailing above a battle as it flies in closer to its target.
The song almost seems upbeat as one listens to Good sing the chorus – “Up in thin air, we lie in wait.” The mood of the song suggests that what waits up high could be angelic, but it is when he sings “Over the fire / a time to bear / what those below wait / here’s my golden spear / here’s my cold despair,” the sinister intentions of what soars through the sky become clear.
The second track, “Via Dolorosa” – Latin for “Way of Grief,” and the name of the street Jesus walked while carrying his cross in Jerusalem – is, lyrically, an unsettling song.
In “Via Dolorosa,” Good sings before maniacally repeating the mantra of “Wait till I get my head on straight / Wait till I get my crown on straight / Wait till I get my cross on straight.” Despite the dark lyrics, the track is an easy contender for the album’s best song due to its crunching guitar riffs, intense pre-chorus buildup and that dynamite chorus. It is perhaps Good’s most infectiously catchy rock song in almost a decade.
Good’s fondness for early ‘90s rock is most notable on the album’s first single, “Had it Coming.” The spoken word vocals in the verses, the bouncing drumbeat and sing-along chorus are reminiscent of Frank Black and Kim Deal’s work in The Pixies.
The rock ‘n’ roll fury reaches its apex on “We’re Long Gone,” which sounds like a mash-up of The Who, ‘90s pop-rocker Matthew Sweet and indie darlings The Hold Steady, after which the album’s tempo drops and its tone becomes more ominous.
The excellent “Garden of Knives” has a chugging bass line that dominates the song. Good’s lyrics are perhaps at their most impenetrable as he snarls, “My love screams / Yeah, I like the second half / All in between honeycomb legs / I’ll break your back.”
Swirling guitars begin to squeal like buzz saws, pounded piano keys tick along like a metronome as Good warns us, “No matter where the sun strikes us / Knives will grow.”
The following track, “Mutineering,” sounds similarly foreboding, but hopefulness bleeds through when the chorus reminds those listening that the evils of the world, “No, they don’t got you yet.”
No song on the album best captures Matthew Good’s old style more so than “Hey Hell Heaven.” Fans familiar with his early albums such as “Underdogs” and “Beautiful Midnight” could easily mistake “Hey Hell Heaven” as a lost b-side to those two albums. It’s with this song that one wonders if Good was not only nostalgic with the early sounds of alternative ‘90s rock, but also nostalgic of a time when he was able to just pick up a guitar and write meaningful rock songs.
Are the densely layered instrumentations that have largely defined his solo work sorely missed while listening to “Arrows of Desire?” Maybe. That’ll depend on the listener. But one cannot deny the fact that by revisiting the sounds of early ‘90s alternative rock, as well as his earlier sound, Good has created a wonderful addition to his expanding body of work.