Though legions of lite-beer-swilling fans disagree--their tours reportedly have grossed more than a half a billion dollars--the Dave Matthews Band always has been better in the studio than on the stage, where the endless wank-fest jams of saxophonist LeRoi Moore and violinist Boyd Tinsley could be a torture far worse than waterboarding. That isn't to say that the quintet's six previous studio albums are good, just that they're more pleasurable/less offensive than the concerts, with gently bouncy hybrid jazz-funk-rock rhythms and innocuous easy-listening melodies easily digested while sipping a latte. The band's new disc continues this tradition, and it may even be the group's finest moment on record.
Named in tribute to Moore, who died at age 46 in an ATV accident last August, "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King" is an album that almost didn't happen: Even before the loss of their bandmate, the musicians were debating whether to continue their stadium-filling corporate enterprise, having lost much of their drive and acquired considerable personal acrimony toward one another over the last decade of easy but lucrative chooglin'. Ultimately they decided to give it one more try, retreating to an isolated home studio at a house called Haunted Hollow outside Charlottesville, Va., and the combination of an uncertain future and the loss of Moore early in the sessions seems to have rekindled a "seize the day" spark artfully fanned by producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, the Goo Goo Dolls), who kept things concise, focused and mostly jam-free, with an emphasis on those lazy but catchy melodies that are Matthews' specialty.
The South African native is still a bonehead when it comes to writing lyrics, which fall either in the categories of Hallmark card romantic banality ("You and me together, we could do anything, baby"), coffee-mug philosophizing ("Funny the way it is, if you think about it/Somebody's going hungry and someone else is eating out") or frat-house sex talk ("Love me baby, love me baby, shake me like a monkey"). But if you toss the disc in the rotation for your next backyard barbecue as a nod to those friends who only listen to triple-A radio, and you ignore what ol' Dave is singing about, at least you won't lose your lunch.