You can call it alternative. You can call it new and exciting and a divergence from his normal sound. You can even call it likable… just don’t call it pop. This is not Matthew Mayfield going pop. This album, Wild Eyes, is Matthew Mayfield making a kind of music that’s a little less his rock side and a little more his strong, emotive side. And it works. Those of us who’ve been around for some of his biggest hits – the kind that get featured on TV shows – have come to appreciate his raspy, engaging vocals as they bring heartfelt sentiments to life. They are abundant on this new album, packaged in some slightly different sonic structures, but still quintessentially Matthew Mayfield.
From the opening driving beat of “Wild Eyes” listeners encounter a grandiose, wide-open-space sound that feels larger than the instruments themselves. It creates a cathedral for the sounds brought on by Matthew Mayfield’s unique vocal. The track is about confrontation and desire, wrapped up in a sort of timeless alt rock styling. It seems like the kind of song that was written after a handful of moderately serious mistakes which will live, iconically, in the song.
Now I’m just not sure what to do with “Mess of a Man.” It seems like Mayfield is channeling some of his harder rock heroes, allowing the dirty guitar licks and syncopation to steal the show. The words, then, reflect a girl that’s not necessarily any good for him, but she makes him “less of a mess of a man,” a perfectly cadenced lyric. The reason I say I’m not sure what to do with it is that it seems like it was a lost track from a 1980s album. Did this come off of a Guns n’ Roses bookleg or something? It’s just so perfectly a blend of a variety of influences – it works, but it’s almost hard to believe.
After that intriguing track, we get to engage a more alternative track in “Better Off Forgiven.” This is more of the sensitive side of Mayfield’s songwriting. It’s anthemic and would be excellent for a soundtrack. The concept is well delivered, because we are “better off forgiven.” It’s about getting over a broken and difficult past, and ultimately about moving on. “Time is here, stop with all the circles, and the grinding gears. Leave it all behind and see your slate is clear, past the fear… better off forgiven anyway.” That’s just some phenomenal songwriting right there. It’s human and captivating, something we can all say “oh yeah, been there.”
Then there’s “Ride Away,” complete with its happy chords and people clapping. You read that right. A Matthew Mayfield with happy clapping. But fear not, there’s a minor chord turn and some kick drum, so it still feels rock enough. It’s about moving on. “From a simple point of view I can finally see the truth, that you are me and I am you… let’s let it go.” Seriously, how many people have settled a relationship argument (or ended a relationship) with such a sentiment? Perfect.
“On Your Knees” is a typical Mayfield tune. From the atmospheric keys in the background, gritty lyrics, and the occasional guitar break, it’s got everything. It’s also written to an unnamed woman about how he’s going to treat her. Similarly “Tidal Wave” uses colorful nautical imagery (in a non-cliche way) to talk about a relationship. It reminds me of some of Mayfield’s earlier stuff, but it also has a new feeling – maybe more hope to it. The vaguely-spiritual imagery awaiting for the calm in the storm is a nice touch.
The absolute best track on this album is “Why We Try.” It’s a duet with Chelsea Lankes and it’s about as stunning as a duet can be. Mayfield’s rasp and Lankes’ clarity compliment each other perfectly. Seriously it’s a hit. I don’t mean a hit among indie fans and kids on college campuses with their earbuds in all the time. I mean this is a legit big-radio hit about perseverance in the midst of difficult relationships. If I had a radio station, I’d play this track every 90 minutes. It’s real, true, and Mayfield’s lower register comes through unlike any other track in his discography. “Everything that you and I have got – it takes so long to find. Maybe that’s why we try.” Yes, sir, yes it is.
“Quiet Lies” is mysterious and deep. There’s a darker element to the track. The almost eerie “no more silent treatment” line is extraordinarily piercing. “I am screaming in your ear. Starving – I’ll stop at nothing…” When it’s worth fighting for, though, it’s worth fighting for. The raw emotion in this track, which drips through in both Mayfield’s vocals and an amazing acoustic finger pick line, definitely makes it the most unsettling on the album.
So as not to leave us with a sour, minor-chord infused flavor, Mayfield brings this back around for the last two tracks. “How to Breathe” is about as fresh as the spring air. It’s fundamentally about self-definition. It sounds like the proud proclamation of a man who may not know exactly who he is, but has a much better sense now than ever. “This tug of war has taught me how to breathe.” The light acoustic guitar play and the quickening melodic pace all works as an adventure of sorts. It’s a tale of man, knowing his journey is not yet over, regaling us of where he’s been thus far. It makes you want to jump on his ship and join the rest of the trip.
The final track “Settle Down” is another duet, this time with Amy Stroup. It just might give you chills, to be honest. Again with the atmospheric keys, Mayfield’s powerful vocals, and Stroup there to accent with perfectly-blended harmonies. The big guitar break makes the song feel like it should be in an arena with ten thousand screaming fans singing along. “Something stronger keeps me here longer, but I still hear you cry.” It seems that the person the song is about is no longer around any more, but it’s not clear where she went. But she’s still with him – she’s the muse that keeps him creating this incredible art. “This is do or die, let go. I can kiss your lips a little longer. I can feel your fire in my bones. If you sense my heart sweet on you, just settle you down…” Yep, that’s Matthew Mayfield’s songwriting. So good.
This is a great album from start to finish. I wish I could think of the target audience for the album, but honestly it’s hard to say who wouldn’t like it. There are elements of a solid rock album, plenty of great alt rock to go around, and even some softer ballads that feel like they could have been recorded in a different era. I’d say fans of Matthew Mayfield’s earlier work need to get this album. For those new to his songwriting, the title track “Wild Eyes” is a good overall “take” on the album.
It’s important for readers of this blog to know that it’s not a typical album for a few reasons. Not only did Mayfield divert from his normal sound on a few tracks, but he also is funding the album differently. Using a new innovative platform called LoudFund now fans can become investors in the music. There are two different options, both of which allow people who share the album to directly profit from its sales. This will allow Mayfield to recoup his investment in creating the work, while also sharing the album’s success with invested parties. If you’re interested in checking out and supporting Matthew Mayfield, check out his LoudFund page here.