Freshly shaven and free of his Hasidic tag line, Spark Seeker finds a Matisyahu who is desperately trying to reinvent himself. By pulling a reverse Snoop Lion move and turning away from the religious nature of his music, we should have been left with nothing but the reggae laced jam-grooves that got thousands of stoned frat-boys hooked on Matisyahu in the first place. Instead, his reinvention digs even deeper and we’re left with over-produced dance-pop that presents the once Chassidic reggae superstar as nothing but a broken shadow of himself.
Things start out promising on the opening cut “Crossroads.” Over a menacing beat seemingly ripped from a back-alley in Detroit, Matisyahu sounds legitimately angry as he raps “I’ve been searching for my bite/They say I inspired, but I’m still looking for my fire/These lies have got me tired.” It’s definitely a slap in the face to his Jewish fans, but it’s also a moment of relief for those wanting to dance to his music sans a lesson in the Torah. Unfortunately, the power behind his quick-tongue and beat-boxing skills must have all been tucked up in his yamaka, because any of those defining traits are completely absent on Spark Seeker.
It was definitely a suspect move to bring in Kool Kojak as a producer. Completely oblivious to the rhythmic structure of roots-reggae, Kojak crafts nothing here but pop-driven dancehall that would be much more suited to the work he’s done with Nicki Minaj or Katy Perry. With a heavy reliance on overly auto-tuned hooks, simplified lyrics, and a serious urge to appeal to 13 year-olds, the question is whether Matisyahu is big enough to just completely flip the switch on the majority of his fans. Sure it worked for the Black Eyed Peas, but is a massive sell-out really the spiritual path he claims his instincts are pulling him towards?
“I Believe in Love” and “Sunshine” are the only cuts on the album that come close to living up to anything he’s done before, and they still sound terribly weak when put next to his back catalogue. Just like Sampson of yore, it seems like his power may have truly lied in his locks and beard. Matisyahu once demanded a certain degree of intelligence from his listeners, and these are the same folks who aren’t going to be fooled into liking a shiny pop tune crafted for Top 40 radio by adding in the grunts of an Israeli yak at the end of it.