As demonstrated both with Matchbox Twenty and on his 2005 solo debut Something to Be — Rob Thomas voice is a soulful and dynamic instrument, capable of conveying heartbreak, rage, and a host of other emotional states. On Something to Be , particularly on songs like This is How a Heart Breaks, that voice sounded urgent, as if it had something to prove. Cradlesong, Thomas sophomore effort, finds him more comfortable in the solo spotlight. And while he too often gives his voice over to pedestrian fare, several of the albums moments showcase his abilities as a singer and songwriter.
The hook-laden Her Diamonds opens the album; it features taiko drums and a singalong chorus. Lyrically, Thomas revives his empathy with the mysterious she often present in many of his songs (And she says ooh, I cant take no more, her tears like diamonds on the floor). The charming, alterna-pop tune, Gasoline coasts along on an appealing, shuffling rhythm.
On several tracks, Cradlesong mines musical motifs of the ’80s. Relationship kiss-off anthem Mockingbird has a New Wave-ish opening. Likewise, Give Me the Meltdown contains a bassline eerily similar to the one in Simple Minds Alive and Kicking.
Among the albums standouts are the bluesy Still Aint Over You, which opens with a hard, crunching riff and features appropriately angst-ridden lyrics (You keep breakin me down, but I still aint over you). In both melody and temperament, Hard On You recalls Go Wests 90s hit King of Wishful Thinking. This song is the kind of effortless pop Thomas has been churning out since the mid-90s, and it proves that his best songwriting is the kind that avoids bombast and unnecessary oversinging.
Elsewhere, crunchy sound effects open the seething, claustrophobic Natural, a fitting soundscape for its vaguely existential narrative (Are we just sitting here, waiting on the end, like its only natural).
Of course, it wouldnt be a Rob Thomas album without a few banal moments. For instance, while the title track begins promisingly with gentle acoustic guitar, it isnt long before it devolves into trite power ballad territory. Fire On the Mountain is the requisite environmental anthem (How do you sleep when the citys burning). Unfortunately, the songs larger-than-life production overwhelms anything Thomas is saying.
Most appalling, though, is Snowblind, which is the worst kind of album filler: clunky, labored and not at all musically interesting. On such tracks, the 14-song album begins to wear out its welcome.
So its smart of Thomas to end the album with its most affecting moment: Getting Late. The song begins with just acoustic guitar and the singers voice, before eventually taking on a hymn-like quality. Soon, an organ further infuses the song with a sense of spirituality and its not long before the listener is nodding along and ready to hit repeat.
More than a decade into his career, Rob Thomas is gamely holding down the fort in the middle of the road, and a good thing, too, because where would the fringes be without the middle?