As a rock and roll enthusiast, particularly of the classics such as Led Zeppelin, I am surprised that I like Matt Nathanson’s new album. Most of Nathanson’s older songs are on the slower side, and the slowest I tolerate is typically on the same par as Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Should Never Be,” which breaks into raucous guitar solos after every verse. But Matt Nathanson surprised me. Granted, I did roll my eyes at some of his slower love songs, such as “Sunday New York Times,” but the majority of the tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders had me tapping my foot and even singing along several times.
You probably know Nathanson because of his 2008 platinum-selling single “Come On Get Higher,” and because several of his songs have been featured in popular movies and TV shows, such as American Wedding and Scrubs. I first heard of him around the time “Come On Get Higher” became wildly popular, because I wanted to know who was responsible for the persistently catchy ballad that wouldn’t get out of my head, if ballads can be catchy. I accidentally saw Nathanson in concert in September 2012; I say “accidentally” because I automatically flock to any event that uses the words “free,” “live,” and “music” to advertise itself, and Nathanson was playing at such an event in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I recall being surprised by Nathanson then, too, expecting more ballad-like songs similar to “Come On Get Higher,” but most of the songs Nathanson performed were fun, easy to dance to, and had lyrics so catchy I was singing along by the second verse. Many of the tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders are “danceable” as well, particularly “Kinks Shirt” and “Annie’s Always Waiting.” Like many other songs on the album, “Kinks Shirt” is peppered with references to San Francisco, which is both his and my current city of residence. From mentions of “sinking fast in the rocky waters off Alcatraz” to lines about “getting winks from the pretty boys in the Castro,” listeners in San Francisco will enjoy hearing the names of landmarks and popular spots in their city.
The aforementioned two tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders are my favorite on the album, “Kinks Shirt” for its upbeat feel and San Francisco references and “Annie’s Always Waiting” for its fun guitar hooks. Fans of songs such as “Come On Get Higher” will enjoy the ballads “Mission Bells,” “Sunday New York Times,” and “Farewell, December.” Hardcore fans of Nathanson will likely love this album. If you’re like me and this isn’t quite your type of music, check out “Kinks Shirt” and see what you think. You might be surprised.