Overall, Mat Kearney’s new album CRAZYTALK has a levity and joy that evaded his early releases, Nothing Left to Love and City of Black and White. Those albums were rich in melancholy depth that sometimes approached the sullen, but Kearney’s poetic lyrics and the truth in his voice afforded him the right to pull it off.
Kearney’s range has never been most evident than it is in CRAZYTALK, not just tonally, but also in his musical style references. Here’s a rundown of some of CRAZYTALK’s outstanding songs and what we think about them:
FORTRESS: This is the song that seamlessly blends a classic Kearney snapping rhythm into 70’s-ish psychedelic tones (minus the reverb). “Fortress” also treats us to his trademark spoken-word stuff, including the stunning turning of phrase, “the enemy texting me…” (Is that iambic pentameter? Bravo, Kearney!)
BY YOUR SIDE: This is the weakest song on CRAZYTALK, as much as you’ve got to respect a good homage to Sade. It sounds like Kearney woke up in the morning mumbling in monotone, half in and half out of a dream. A hard pass on this one.
MONEY: The Akon-esque song that you can’t get out of your head, “Money” is this album’s version of JUST KIDS’ “Hey Mama.” This song has the verses that you want to memorize as soon as you’ve heard them: “…strumming on my ukulele, she say, ‘you sound a little like Coldplay,’ Haha!”
KINGS AND QUEENS: I’ve been a fan of this song since the EP included it back in early 2018 (back when “all the feels” was a slightly less stale phrase). The phrases are an audial delight and the Kardashians and young culture at large should listen up: “we don’t need no Benzo to feel like we can ride/richer than Solomon with you by my side/we’ll be kings and queens in our own mind/we don’t need no jet plane feel like we can fly/we don’t need no gold chain just to watch it shine/twenty four carat lies we don’t got the time…” Amazing.
SLEEPING AT THE WHEEL: This is the song on the album that made me cry, because Kearney uses a well-worn cliché as a revelation, ironically. The song nudges us to appreciate the beauty right in front of us that, in the moment you know it, you also know that the moment is gone. It’s like a real-time nostalgia you can’t do anything about except to realize: “come on love, wake me up to something real/if I’m just sleeping at the wheel.”
CHANGES: “Changes” is the most painfully true song on the album, “growing up breaks you down…” as the singer powerfully empathizes with a heartbroken friend. “Changes” sounds suspiciously close to Chainsmokers’ music in cadence and empirical quality of lyrics, but paying attention for a moment, you won’t be fooled. While Chainsmokers’ songs consistently subsist on themes like clumsy lust and that to-hell-with-you attitude after the night has been spent, there is wisdom that runs beneath Kearney’s lyrics that you’ll never find in something like a Halsey/Chainsmoker collaboration. “Changes,” like the CRAZYTALK album as a whole, has rarer and more hard-won themes like the freedom in gratitude and mining the joy out of life. “Changes” may at first sound like another cool rock song, but there’s depth there that keeps resonating beyond the 33rd listen.
Tonally and musically, CRAZYTALK is an evolution onward and upward for Mat Kearney. His artistic weakness seems to be his music videos that strain to go past the millennial hipster ennui and solid cinematography. His one homerun is one of my favorite music videos of all time, LIKE SHIPS IN THE NIGHT, featuring his luminous wife, Annie. This is the video where Kearney allowed his once-nascent happiness to emerge, which, coupled with his poetry, pervades CRAZYTALK and has made us not nearly done playing the album on REPEAT, all caps.