For many of us awkwardly lurching through the halls of middle school in the late 1990s, the Matthew Good Band’s third album, Beautiful Midnight, was a welcome contribution to the nearly-saturated Canadian alternative rock scene that was, intentionally or not, fomenting a good amount of pre-millennium angst. Unlike the records of some of the decade’s more forgettable acts, Beautiful Midnight’s enduring success is ultimately linked to its wide-reaching ambition: Hit singles like “Load Me Up” and “Hello Time Bomb” ambiguously grapple with issues of self-consciousness and loss of direction; “Strange Days”, one of Good’s most affecting vocal performances, hits on feelings of isolation.
Overall, this album loudly and quite literally rocks. In fact, some of the most hard-hitting lyric punches of its first half can be quickly lost in the noise, appropriately foreshadowed by the initial cheer of “Giant” (“K-I-C-K-A-S-S! / That’s the way we spell success!”). “Suburbia”, perched at the album’s halfway point, thus offers a crucial moment for pause. It’s hard to miss: There is finally quiet after the conclusion of “Failing the Rorschach Test”. A guitar and a drum kit gently emerge from brief ambience, generating a dream-like forward movement that progresses confidently through to the song’s conclusion.
Good begins to sing, establishing a more distanced and melancholic mood than that heard earlier: “You will come back within yourself / You can be art when we melt / And I will know what you were for”. These initial lyrics, along with the song’s title, quickly form a problematic of home, as amid the compellingly repetitive drum beat and guitar riff, lush strings, and light use of electronics, Good resolves to directly confront the conflicting feelings of acrimony and indebtedness towards a hometown. In the second verse, he holds the place’s tedium in contempt: “There ain’t nothing here at all / Another month, a year that’s all”. This is established in the chorus as well: “Someday this place is going to burn / Is your whole life in there waiting?” But, bookending the song, there is also an anxious identification of the influence of the hometown. There are the initial lyrics, which suggest an internal return. There is the framing of the entire song as a pseudo-conversation with someone once cared for greatly. Amongst some sparse electronics as the song concludes surfaces a distorted admission that is barely made out: “We are there”. This is haunting stuff.
The dreamy and orchestral pause of “Suburbia” is indispensable in the context and conception of Beautiful Midnight. It is inherently intimate, revealing both a desire to escape from the hometown yet an eventual impossibility to fully do so. At the same time, this acknowledgement of origin heightens a second listening to the preoccupations of finding oneself and lack of direction that come earlier on the album and a first engagement with the thinking towards the future that comes later, both subdued (“Born To Kill”) and overt (“The Future Is X-Rated”). It is the natural point at which we can both honestly reflect back on the process and place of growing up and speculate how that period will influence future thinking; it is no wonder that the song sits at 11 PM on the album’s track list. All things considered, a song like “Suburbia” is likely on a concept album as thematically ambitious as this. It is its quiet beauty that is unexpected.
“Suburbia” – Matthew Good Band
Music and lyrics by Matthew Good and Dave Genn
B. Stafford is the 14th Floor’s Annex-based music critic.