As you know if you follow this site at all, I am a Matt Nathanson fan. I think he is a fantastic songwriter/singer and an all around marvelous person. I have seen him live only three times and each time he keeps getting better. His live shows are something you have to see as his banter with the crowd is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.!! He is witty, funny and damn, the man can sing. Matt is also a lyrical painter. He pays so much attention to the lyrical phrasing that it paints such a vivid picture or touches you in ways that only music can do.
Matt Nathanson, the studio musician, is broken down in two categories for me. The 90’s Matt is is an indie rocker that is still trying to find his voice both lyrically and vocally. But the shades of what is to come is in dimly shining in there. Then there is the Matt of 2000’s that has seen his songwriting and singing grow by leaps and bound. He has a confidence that shows in his music and definitely shows when he is on stage. There are those that find his early stuff more raw and pure and it is that, but as you will see with the list, I find his 2000’s self to be the better half.
So, you now have my overall reasoning behind my picks and with that, we need to dive in and rank Matt Nathanson’s albums from The Worst to the one I think is First! And sorry I don’t have all his albums in the Header photo as the site I use only offers 8 frames otherwise I would have had all 10 included.
THE WORST – PLEASE (1993):
Now here is the good news, there really isn’t a bad choice among all the albums, this is all about preference. I have this as the Worst mainly because it is an album with a rough production and Matt’s vocals aren’t quite what they become. And yes I do know that these are mostly demos thus the explaining the quality. The cool thing about it is that the songs were all written while he was in high school or during his freshman year at Pitzer College in California. There are hints of the Matt I grew to love, but it is the one album I go to the least.
It doesn’t mean it is all bad, check out songs like “Solace and Pain”, “Illusions”, “Hold Me” and “Continue Dreaming”. These are all great songs and not a bad start for an artist starting out in the world.
#9 – NOT COLORED TOO PERFECT (1998):
This is Matt’s third album and it is mostly a compilation of songs that he had written back in 1995 and even some songs from his band that never released an album. The band name was Here Comes Everybody. Again, this another album that suffers a little from production quality, but what I do notice in the album is that he is growing as a singer and a songwriter. He is starting to find himself a little. He isn’t quite there yet, but getting closer.
If you want to know the songs to listen to first, I would start with “All Been Said Before”, “New Coats and New Hats”, “Church Clothes” and “Miracles”. The last two songs on the album, “Vandalized” and “Trace of a Cat’s Eye” are from his band and were actually written by Bill Foreman from the band.
#8 – ERNST (1997):
Matt’s second album was a cool set of all acoustic tracks and acoustically is where Matt is himself and all his glory. This also is the first time we hear one of my favorite early Matt songs called “Church Clothes”. This is mostly just Matt with the occasional percussion and even I hear an accordion and what sounds like a cello.
Some of the best songs on here you find on ‘Not Colored Too Perfect’ in a more full studio form. As much as I like those, I prefer the acoustic mix. The best one’s on here are “Church Clothes”, “New Costs and New Hats”, “All Been Said Before”, ‘First Time” and I would take “We’ll Recover” as well.
#7 – STILL WAITING FOR THE SPRING (1999):
‘Still Waiting For Spring’ opens with a weird track called “Parade” and thankfully only 33 seconds. Once you are past that, you are in for a treat that has Matt finally starting to get comfortable in his skin, in his songs and his singing. This is the album before I discovered him and you can feel the energy and someone that is starting to know what he wants. A cool note on this album is that David Immergluck & Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows appear on this release including the song “Loud” which was featured in Dawson Creek. Pretty cool.
Other than “Loud”, there are a bunch of other great tracks including “Wings”, “Lucky Boy” and another of my favorite tracks called “Answering Machine”. But honestly, the whole thing is really fantastic. Not all songs hit the mark, but more killer than filler for sure.
#6 – LAST OF THE GREAT PRETENDERS (2013):
Now here is the thing. This album is so freaking awesome and yet it is down at #6 and that says a lot about how good the rest of the albums are. As a follow-up to his best album (IMO), he delivered an album most artists would kill for, but for me how do you follow such a great album and beat it. In this case, he couldn’t but he didn’t miss by much (okay he missed by 5 slots, but so close).
There were only a couple of songs I was that keen on, however, the rest were stellar. Two of my all-time favorite Matt Nathanson songs are on here including “Kinks Shirt” and “Last Days of Summer in San Francisco” as well as “Earthquake Weather”, “Mission Bells” and “Annie’s Always Waiting (For the Next One to Leave”. Again, this is a testament to Matt for this to be at 6 with how great it is.
#5 – BENEATH THESE FIREWORKS (2003):
The album that pretty much started it all for me with Matt Nathanson. I am sure I discovered it from one of the many TV shows that played his songs as Matt was smart to license at least half the album out to hit TV shows. For a up and coming artist it is hard to get noticed and you will try anything and he did. And for me, it worked. This is the first of Matt’s albums that really showcase who he is and what he was going to become. He had found his VOICE!! His songwriting was finally there and he his singing finally found that sweet spot.
From the opener “Angel”, to “Suspened” and “I Saw” it is pure magic. Songs like “Bare” and “Cure of the Earth” encapsulated his spirit and I couldn’t get enough of it. Sadly, Universal dropped him from the label and the album didn’t do anything…except turn me in to a lifelong fan!!
#4 – SHOW ME YOUR FANGS (2015):
Here is another example of an album so great you ask the question, how is it this low?? I don’t know because this album is almost a masterpiece. From the opener of “Giants” all the way to the my ALL-TIME FAVORITE Matt song of “Headphones” (I don’t get any better than this one!!!), the album is pure “Gold in the Summertime” (even though that song is a little corny).
What I love about this album is the quirkiness of the whole thing. When you write a song like “Bill Murray” and then have a song as awesome as “Adrenaline” to then go to “Playlists & Apologies” you have tapped in to something special. The only reason it is down this far as there a couple tracks that didn’t quite do it for me such as “Shouting” and even “Gold…”. The rest are really amazing though.
#3 – SOME MAD HOPE (2007):
The album that really turned the tides for Matt. His first HIT!!! The album went Gold and the hit song “Come On Get Higher” has gone double platinum. Matt continued the marketing of licensing off the songs to TV shows as this one was no different. In what is so close to being a perfect album, Matt delivered an album that felt so personal, so touching and one that connected to me on many ways.
Songs like the hit “Come On Get Higher”, “Car Crash”, “To The Beat of Our Noisy Hearts”, “Gone” and what could quite possibly be the best song on the album “Falling Apart” show how Matt has matured as a songwriter and even a singer. This is the Matt that I love to listen to and throw in his live performance and dang, he is a star in my book.
Can an album be the perfect Pop album? I think the answer is yes and it is this one. ‘Sings His Sad Heart’ has the ability to turn a collection of truly sad songs in to joyful sounding pop songs. It is that dichotomy of the sad song and happy feels that makes this album work so well. It is 10 songs and 32 minutes of brilliance. Not one song to skip and is one of those albums I don’t play it once, I go through it several times when I pull it out. It must be listened to again and again.
What songs are my favorite…saying all of them would be too easy so I will pick a few. I would go with “Mine”, “Way Way Back”, “Different Beds”, “Used to Be” and “Long Distance Runner” as my top choices, but honestly, I don’t feel there is bad one in the bunch. He paid so much attention to the lyrics in this one that the phrasing and word choices feel like they were meant to be together. It made the songs so catchy and memorable that you sing them even after the songs are over.
#1 – MODERN LOVE (2011):
And here we finally are. The #1 Matt Nathanson album. And no, it isn’t #1 because my brother in law worked on it with Matt. That isn’t it at all. It is the songs and Matt’s stellar singing. Matt has two perfect albums, this one and I just talked about the other one at #2. No bad songs and total enjoyment both musically and lyrically. The pictures painted on this one were supposed to be modeled off the music of the 80’s and I can hear some of that, but what I hear are beautifully crafted pop/rock songs
From awkward timing of the hand clap in “Faster” (I have no rhythm) all the way to the “Bottom of the Sea”, you are treated to a collection of pop songs that will take you on a journey and have you feeling great when it is over. Songs like the overly catchy “Modern Love”, “Love comes Tumbling Down”, “Mercy” and to two of my favorites “Room @ the End of the World” and the Sugarland duet of “Run” which is another of my ALL TIME FAVORITE songs (stunningly beautiful ballad and one of the sexiest songs ever), there is no going wrong with anything. This is a must along with ‘Sings His Sad Heart’.
And there you have it, Matt Nathanson’s studio albums in order of how I rank them from the worst to the best. Let me know what you think. Where did we differ and where did we agree. What is fun about these list is how differently each album impacts people. What I like, you might not, but we like the same artist and that is all that matters really. And if as a result, you find something new, then my job is done!!!