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Dave Matthews Band – Ranking Their Studio Albums

DMBIt’s no secret that Dave Matthews Band has been one of the most successful bands since the 90’s. There’s just something about their music that connects with me on a very soulful level. Maybe it’s the unconventional singing voice of Dave himself. It could be the marriage of all those instruments that blend into a unified musical journey. There’s also the story-telling element of Dave’s lyrics that add depth to their content. In actuality, it’s truly a combination of all those things and more. While the live concert is where the band thrives, there’s no overlooking their roster of studio albums. There’s no real timetable for their next release, but there is and admirable library to pick from today so let’s take a look at how they rate.

For purposes of clarity, this article focuses on the band and not Dave Matthews’ solo studio album, Some Devil, or the band album, Remember Two Things, which was actually their first official live recording (one of over 60 concert DMB albums).  The band completed their 25th anniversary tour in 2016, and during their quarter-century of existence, they have produced eight studio albums.  Each record has its own personality and each has received its own accolades and criticisms from fans and critics alike.  This isn’t a collection of scientific data or a national poll, just my thoughts.

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8.  Away From the World (2012)

Away From the WorldThe most recent studio release, Away From the World (AFTW) is DMB’s “The Phantom Menace.”  If you didn’t catch that Star Wars reference, let me just say that was arguably the worst Star Wars film to date.  This is not simply the band’s lowest ranking album on this list, it was a truly lackluster product.  It meanders and chases its tail and never really accomplishes a whole lot.  After 4 years of me criticizing it, I finally broke down and bought it last week and listened to it in its entirety.  Oh well, I’ve spent $12 on worse things.  The problem with the music on AFTW is that nothing stands out.  Nothing leaps from the speakers and delivers this great vibe or contemplation, nor does it provide an emotional grasp.  It would be more aptly titled “Away From the Fans.”  Needless to say, this reunion with producer Steve Lillywhite did not recapture the magic from the band’s first three albums.

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7.  Everday (2001)

EverydayEveryday was the band’s first foray in the studio without producer Steve Lillywhite.  While their departure from Lillywhite may have been under unfortunate circumstances, they soon found a home in the studio with producer Glen Ballard.  Ballard had previously worked with Aerosmith and Alanis Morissette, and fans were apprehensive when Dave and crew went into the rock-focused producer’s studio.  Changes were definitely made, with the most noticeable one being Dave Matthew’s parting with the acoustic guitar he was so commonly associated with.  Now armed with an electric five-string, the band turned out hits like the ballad “The Space Between” and the faster-paced “So Right.”  The album closes out with the title track “Everyday” as Mr. Matthews is briefly yet brilliantly reunited with his acoustic instrument.  A decent album, certainly, but it definitely broke from tradition and DMB hasn’t returned to this sound so heavily since.

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6.  Stand Up (2005)

Stand UpIn all honesty, this album could be flip-flopped with Everyday in the 7-spot.  They both have their highs (“Hello Again” and “Everyday”) and their lows (“Everybody Wake Up” and “I Did It”).  Everyday took a big risk going electric.  Most of it worked, some of it didn’t.  However, Stand Up, while it was back on the band’s more traditional path (traditional for them), it took some risks of its own.  “American Baby” went the political route in its lyrics and succeeded in its delivery without being divisive.  The song that stands out in my mind from this album more than any other would have to be the vocally determined “Louisiana Bayou.”  Opening with the lines “Two young boys lyin’ dead by the side of the road; The coins in their eyes represent the money they owe” was proof of Dave Matthews’ profound ability to tell a story in his music, not to mention the band’s instrumental delivery can be adrenaline inducing.  Ironically enough, this album’s biggest drawback is arguably the title track “Stand Up.”  While that particular song is rather repetitive and seemingly endless, it is eclipsed by the high quality of other tunes on here.

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5.  Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King (2009)

Big WhiskeyLeroi Moore was famously known as DMB’s very talented reedist with the majority of his duties focused on the saxophone.  Moore was involved in an ATV accident in 2008 and died from complications of his injuries shortly thereafter.  If nothing else, the album cover was a tribute to him as well as the name (Matthews dubbed Moore the GrooGrux King).  Rashawn Ross took over for Moore and succeeded helming  sax and horn duties.  For the recording as a whole, it was a vast improvement over its 2005 predecessor, and a diverse one at that.  Tracks like “Alligator Pie” and “Shake Me Like a Monkey” get the blood flowing in a big way while “Funny the Way It Is” and “Lying in the Hands of God” produce that thought-provoking aspect I so often get from the band’s music.  Top to bottom, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King was a solid album that didn’t have some of the missteps as the 6th, 7th and 8th spots on this list.

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4. Busted Stuff (2002)

Busted StuffUnofficially dubbed “The Lillywhite Sessions” by fans, these were the songs that should’ve comprised a fourth outing with their original producer.  Instead, DMB had a compilation of music too good to not be released.  Most likely relating to their falling out with Steve Lillywhite, the band’s fourth studio album was aptly titled Busted Stuff.  The effort leads off with the title song while being followed up with the driven sounds of “Grey Street,” a song that should have received radio play in the album’s heyday, but remains a favorite with fans nonetheless.  There’s the lesson-lending “Big-Eyed Fish” whose meaty lyrics match the song’s entrancing guitar work while “Bartender” always seems to take listeners on a musical journey of its own.  Lastly, I would be doing Busted Stuff a disservice without mentioning “You Never Know.”  Every stare out the window of a car when you were a kid?  You’ll get this song.

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Now here comes the tricky part.  More debates will be probably be spawned from the order arrangement of the next three records than the previous five.  Hey, what’s a top 10…err…top 8 list without a little disagreement?  Let’s get to it!

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3.  Before These Crowded Streets (1998)

Before These Crowded StreetsBefore These Crowded Streets had a unique trait where nearly all of its songs were concluded with a quick jam-out or accented ending.  That’s not why this album is so highly ranked though.  The music here is incredible.  Want a lesson on the past?  Listen to “Don’t Drink the Water.”  Want a lesson on the present?  Listen to “The Last Stop.”  Even nearly 20 years later, both of those songs’ meanings hold true.  Meanwhile the aggressiveness of those two songs, as well as the unforgettable “Halloween,” are so spectacularly complemented by the carefully woven affection of “Stay” and “Crush.”  The substantial “Dreaming Tree” has to get a nod here as well, taking listeners deeply through a tale of loss of innocence and a path to the afterlife.  Yes, Joe F., I know this album is your #1, but we can agree to disagree.  I will say this though, I think the music on this album sounds better live than any other DMB studio album out there.

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2.  Crash (1996)

CrashDave Matthews Band has succeeded in the industry for a few decades now without the assistance of a lot of radio time.  With that being said, their most famous ballad, “Crash Into Me,” has garnered plenty of FM listeners.  For the hardcore DMB fans, it may be a little played out, but there’s no denying it is one of their most successful commercial ventures for over 20 years.  Like Before These Crowded Streets, there’s not one unfavorable tune on this album.  It’s such an unbelievably rock-solid piece of musicality with incredible songs such as “#41,” “Drive In Drive Out” and of course, “Two Step.”  There is a grandeur of emotion built into Crash, which is very evident in the aforementioned songs as well as the apartheid-influenced “Cry Freedom.”  You can dance to this album, party to it, chill out to it, whatever to it!  It is nothing less than a masterpiece through and through.

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1.  Under the Table and Dreaming (1994)

Under the TableIf Crash is a masterpiece, then Under the Table and Dreaming is the band’s Mona Lisa.  Alright I’ll be honest.  If you wanted to argue that the one and two spots should be reversed on this list, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.  I went up and down the track list of each album.  I played them, I paused them, I went back and played them again.  It came down to one little aspect with DMB’s inaugural studio album claiming the #1 spot.  I was a senior in high school when this album was at its height.  I listened to it relentlessly my first year in college and plenty more after that.  There’s just this very impassioned connection I have to Under the Table.  Sure it contains the working society’s anthem in Ants Marching,” but the notes of “Typical Situation” and “Warehouse” cannot be denied a place of mention here.  The experience concludes as the CD (what’s a CD??) plays through 33 blank tracks after “Pay For What You Get,” which many thought was the last song on the list.  The 34th track, simply titled “#34,” is a beautiful and serene jazzy jaunt that is only matched in conclusion by Leroi Moore’s final playing as the last notes on Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King.  Under the Table and Dreaming put Dave Matthews Band on the map, showcasing the somewhat unconventional combination of an acoustic guitar, violin, saxophone, bass guitar and drums that has equated to a massively successful career and a string of albums that have evolved since that first studio leap 23 years ago.

 

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6 Responses to “Dave Matthews Band – Ranking Their Studio Albums”


  1. Music by Tope

    I almost agree with your ranking. I would switch your 1 and 3 giving reverence to the interludes between songs on BTCS. We do not share (and haven’t for years) your opinion on AFTW. To compare it to The Phantom Menace is harsh. It’s as if you’re ranking 5-Star Hotels and comparing the lowest ranking to a basement bar bathroom. I also completely dismissed Busted Stuff as most of those songs were studio versions of songs already established on tour. Yes, the earliest albums follow the same formula but for whatever reason, it didn’t work on this one.

    Despite my overthinking on the subject, DMB is one of my favorite bands. It is worth noting that although I may not have enjoyed some studio albums at first, hearing the songs live often gave me a greater appreciation for them.

  2. Gregg

    Thanks for the comment! I’ve found that most DMB fans prefer BTCS as their #1. AFTW, ehhh, it is so blah and forgettable. It was not representative of the band at all. What’s even more surprising is that Lillywhite came back and this is the effort that came out of it. You mentioned the formula of the first three, what was that exactly? Those first three albums were incredible. Each song on each album was awesome. Was it the quality of songs on AFTW? That’s what I’m thinking, but I can’t quite nail it down.

  3. Brandon Peters

    Personal Ranking and 3 favorite tracks from each.

    Your ranking is your ranking and I’m not gonna argue on preference. I will say that the top 3 are obvious for any fan and whatever one of the “Big 3” is your #1-#3…there isn’t a wrong answer.

    1. Before These Crowded Streets: “Spoon” (Been fortunate enough to have caught this uber rarity twice), “The Last Stop”, “The Stone”

    2. Crash: “Two Step”, “Say Goodbye”, “Too Much”

    3. Under the Table and Dreaming: “The Best of What’s Around”, “Typical Situation”, “Lover Lay Down”

    4. Busted Stuff: “Big Eyed Fish”, “Captain”, “Grey Street”

    5. Away From the World: “Snow Outside”, “Broken Things”, “Rooftop”

    6. Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King: “Lying in the Hands of God”, “Squirm”, “Funny the Way It Is”

    7. Everyday: “So Right”, “Fool To Think”, “The Space Between”

    8. Stand Up: “Hello Again”, “Stolen Away on 55th & 3rd”, “You Might Die Trying”
    *Hard to judge this one because the production on this album is complete garbage, but they’ve managed to fix/complete/salvage a number of these in the live setting. Something like “Old Dirt Hill” is an embarrassment on the album but if you’ve seen it live in the Dave & Tim setting or DMB 2008-present, its a really good song.

    For fun

    Some Devil: “Stay or Leave”, “Some Devil”, “Dodo”

    Remember Two Things: “Recently”, “Minarets”, “Seek Up”

    The Lilywhite Sessions: “JTR”, “Captain”, “Big Eyed Fish”

  4. Gregg Senko

    Hey Brandon, thanks for the dialogue! ‘Spoon’ is a live rarity indeed! I’ve been to 24 shows and have yet to hear that one. I think one song I would love to hear live again that is another rarity is ‘Dreaming Tree’. It probably contains some of my most favorite lyrics Dave has ever written. I’d like your thoughts on ranking Away From the World at #5. I’ve noticed this is probably their most polarizing album. Haha! I like ‘Old Dirt Hill’, but yes, it absolutely resonates in a Dave & Tim setting. ‘You Might Die Trying’ is awesome live in a full band concert. Dave usually goes nuts dancing to that one which always gets the crowd going.

  5. Brandon Peters

    Dreaming Tree! I haven’t caught that one at a show in 9 years. Would love to see it again, its one that keeps alluding me (not that they play it much anyway).

    Die Trying is always welcome. I’ve enjoyed that one for a long time. When I saw it in 2007 w/ Danny Barnes guesting, I felt there was more there and something special with this song..and then when the 2008 tour hit, I think they finally grasped it and found its full potential (thanks, Tim!) and continues to grow.

    Have to say, I’ve honestly never seen AFTW referred to as polarizing until you said something. Most groups I know or message boards I frequent usually have Stand Up as that album.

    AFTW I’m starting to cool on a little bit, but I’ll stand by it being light years better than Everyday and Stand Up. In my ranking, you could flip it and Big Whiskey, it just depends on the day. For me, I love the way Steve Lilywhite makes the band sound and his intricacies in his sound engineering. AFTW felt like a trip back to that. He’s also the only producer that has effectively understood how to use Boyd Tinsley. It also featured some of what I thought was Dave’s best lyrical work in many years (Though not perfect, it also contains my vote for the worst chorus ever in a DMB song with “Gaucho”). Snow Outside was and still is an instant all-time great DMB song for me. And I feel like a lot of the songs on it slightly remind me of a trip through the band’s history (Mercy sounds like a Crash song, Rooftop-Everyday, The Riff-Busted Stuff, Belly Belly-Big Whiskey, Broken Things-BTCS, If Only-Stand Up, Belly Full-Some Devil so on and so on).

    Where AFTW lacks is in how the track order is followed. It starts off and finishes very strong, but the middle run of Mercy through If Only really drags. Individually, I enjoy most of the songs (Really love The Riff). But most of the songs are very slow and sort of muddy it up before Rooftop hits, but then there are only 3 tracks left and its really too late.

    Weird thing about AFTW is it started out that Dave and Steve Lilywhite were getting back together to record a B-sides album, then wound up both wanting to do new stuff. And from what I’ve been told, the recording process was closer to Everyday than any other album. Basically a Dave solo album where the rest of the band came in later and had very little input.

    I think Big Whiskey was a bit more of an energy burst, surface-level pop-friendly album and AFTW was the other direction in a more focused, musically complex and deeper meaning album. Kind of like if you compare the Lilywhite Sessions and Everyday, but less drastic a change.

  6. Gregg

    Hey man, though I disagree with some of that, that’s some great dialogue right there. I love how you broke down all of that. I have to say though that Snow Outside is one of my most disliked DMB songs. Gaucho is a decent song, but yes, that chorus is something unfavorable. The polarizing part on AFTW comes from a couple forums and the numerous comments on iTunes that come from both ends of the spectrum. I agree with you though, Stand Up is definitely a fan-separator in its own way.

    Unfortunately, there is no news on a new band album. They aren’t in any hurry and rightly so. The next thing out will probably be Dave’s second solo album. The band won’t be touring this summer, just Dave and Tim. Things are slowing down for the band for now on the production side, but that’s okay. I’d prefer the creative personality for ten good albums than a band with double that many that all sound the same.