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Regrouped matchbox twenty Gets Back To Good

Of the Oakland Press

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After the kind of break that might have broken up other bands, things are back to good again for matchbox twenty.

That doesn’t mean the group’s three-year-plus hiatus — which ended with the October release of mb20’s fourth album, “Exile on Mainstream” — was all smooth, however. What was expected to be a relatively short time off was extended by the platinum success of frontman Rob Thomas’ solo album, and then by the departure of guitarist Adam Gaynor in 2005.

And at various points during that time, which drummer-turned-guitarist Paul Doucette terms a “hibernation,” the group members acknowledge there were concerns about whether mb20 would be able come back together at all.

“We are all kind of going back and forth,” Thomas, 35, recalls, “and talking about what this band was going to be. I think that was the period where it seemed like we didn’t know what we were going to do, and we actually talked about it, like, ‘What do you think? Are we NOT gonna do this?’ ”

Doucette, 35, says that, “I don’t think any of us wanted the band to be over, but we definitely wanted the time to go off and do other stuff away from each other. But there was a lot of stuff that was getting in the way of us getting together. When the time was right, we were all, like ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ”

The comeback has certainly been welcomed by fans. “Exile ...,” which features six new songs and 11 previous hits, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts and was quickly certified gold. The energetic first single, “How Far We’ve Come,” reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was Top 10 on the adult-contemporary surveys. A second single, “These Hard Times” is currently climbing the charts.

The success is no surprise, of course, given mb20’s muscular track record. Formed in the mid-’90s in Orlando, Fla., the group sold 28 million copies of its first three albums and launched a batch of hit singles such as “3AM,” “Bent,” “Push,” “If You’re Gone,” “Unwell,” “Real World” and “Back 2 Good.” In fact, mb20 has had more No. 1 hits and has spent more weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard’s Modern Adult Contemporary and Adult Top 40 charts than any other group.

Five Grammy Awards and three American Music Awards nominations and citations from Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard and other magazines only underscored mb20’s potency as a hit-making machine, and Thomas’ success outside the band — including co-writing and singing the Grammywinning Santana hit “Smooth” in 1999 — brought the group an extra bit of luster.

But Thomas says no one should have thought his success with “... Something to Be” might endanger the band.

“One successful solo record doesn’t even put a drop in the bucket to what we’ve accomplished, from zero to now,” he says. “So it just didn’t seem to make any sense at all to try and compare the two.”

Adds guitarist Kyle Cook, 32, “I think we all understood that these kind of solo projects needed to happen. Looking at it now, I think it was healthy for everybody to explore and express themselves in other ways and kind of get that out of their system so those egos couldn’t really blister in this group.”

But, Doucette says, there were some “issues” that needed to be ironed out as mb20 reconvened, primarily between he and Thomas. He demures from specifics, but says he and Thomas “hashed it out” during a conversation earlier this year at Thomas’ home in New York.

“It was like, ‘All right, let’s get into this. I’m (angry) because you did this. You’re (angry) because I did that,’ that kind of thing,” says Doucette, who recorded a still-unreleased solo album and wrote music for film and TV.

Thomas acknowledges that he and Doucette, as “best friends for 15 years,” have the “most volatile” relationship in the band. When the two met, he says, they weren’t sure “if we were having a meeting to bring it back together or ... to say, ‘OK, that’s it, we’re not gonna be a band.’ But just sitting down and having a beer together just kind of changed everything, like, ‘All right, we’re being silly ...’ ”

Mb20 did change its working arrangement for “Exile on Mainstream,” with all four members — including bassist Brian Yale — contributing to the songwriting rather than Thomas dominating. The resulting six new songs, produced by Steve Lillywhite rather than longtime band cohort Matt Serletic, have a more energetic, hard-rocking feel that the members attribute to watching the DVD of the 1985 Live Aid concerts.

“A lot of those groups and songs, like David Bowie and the rest, are sort of nostalgic for all of us, so we had that as both entertainment and inspiration going on,” recalls Cook, who also leads a band called the New Left. “Some of those influences made their way into the music.”

Mb20’s challenge now is finding a way to maintain both the band and its member’s solo endeavors. The situation, they say, is analogous to Genesis in the ’80s, with the band serving as a collaborative mothership while the musicians maintain parallel solo activities.

“I sense the general attitude that everybody wants to keep this as a home base,” Cook says, while Doucette predicts it will take “a lot of balancing.” Thomas, meanwhile, says that songwriting is continuing — by the band on the road, and by himself for his second solo album, which is about half-finished.

The singer doesn’t want to predict what will come next, but he says that “it’s just good to know that I’m writing and the band is writing, and those options are out there.

“As long as we’re writing and being creative, it’s limitless the things we can do,” Thomas explains. “It’s only trouble if we stop being creative — that’s when it’s a problem. If my biggest problem in the world is, ‘Wow, do I put out a matchbox twenty record or do I put out a solo record?,’ if I have an opportunity to do either, then I still have a job and I’m ... lucky.”

matchbox twenty, Alanis Morissette and Mutemath perform at 6:30 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 2) at The Palace, Lapeer Road at Interstate 75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $79.50 and $49.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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