Eric Matthews – Six Kinds of Passion Looking For an Exit

Eric Matthews
Six Kinds of Passion Looking For an Exit

Coming as it does eight whole years after his last release, the short and imperfect Six Kinds of Passion Looking For an Exit can’t be heard as anything but a disappointment upon first (few) listen(s). After two albums of impeccably baroque song-suites in the mid 90s, Eric Matthews gladly accepted the crown of orch-pop golden boy and then promptly dropped out of sight. The gulf between 1997’s The Lateness of the Hour and this new mini-album has seen Eric involved in recordings with artists such as Tahiti 80 and Paula Kelly, but they furthered little evidence of his own writing and singing skills. To be offered a mere seven songs after so long a silence, and from an artist who demands such grand melodic displays from his music as Eric does, puts a lot of pressure on these songs.

The disappointment – such as it is – comes from the fact that Eric neither achieves the stunning pop moment he constantly strives for nor effectively tamps down that clumsily poetic magpie he carries around with him. The two do collide nicely though on the sentimental “Cardinal is More,” an almost embarrassingly earnest – if indirect – paean to his celebrated duo with Australian ex-pat Richard Davies, himself a font of cryptic baroquery though of a less purple variety. When Cardinal split, Davies took the weird astringency that had been his hallmark since his earlier work with Sydney’s The Moles, and Eric was left with the rich tapestry of sound they had created. Although the writing on the duo’s one and only album was almost exclusively Davies’, Eric’s 1995 debut It’s Heavy in Here proved he could pen the slipperiest of melodies over windy but defiantly elegant chord changes.

He’s still cooing impenetrable couplets over crystalline guitars on “Underground Song,” a gently drifting melody that reminds one unexpectedly of a resurgent Donovan. He also still wields an mightily indecipherable lyric sheet, though these are among his most affecting with oddly syntaxed lines like “terribly sailing in waters that hate me” and “captive in ambulance, I’m sinking, I’m sickening” hinting at some persistent self-loathing, which may be why Eric sounds so eager for reconciliation with his former bandmate on the aforementioned “Cardinal is More.” On the opener “Worthy,” his cool, breathy harmonies run through the tune like a chilly stream, but his vulnerable innocence is welcoming and radiates through the records’ sometimes turgid lyrics.

Spirited away from his unlikely birthplace of Compton while a child, Eric’s rearing in the bucolic splendor of northern Oregon shows in the majestic beauty of his music, though nothing on Six Kinds of Passion Looking For an Exit reaches the heights of “Everything So Real” from Lateness or “Fried Out Broken Girl” from 1995’s debut. Granted, for the connoisseur of lush, classically influenced guitar pop, little does. That this relatively modest release fails to take his sound to a higher level is clear, but the magic still works, especially on the gorgeous “So Overblown.” Here, and on the similar if lesser “You Will Be Happy,” Eric kindly reintroduces us to the e-bow, a long neglected tool in the art-rock guitarist’s arsenal that mimics the infinite sustain of a violin by resting atop and vibrating the guitars strings. Sweet.

You can certainly blame Eric for the of Berklee-trained likes of John Mayer if you want, although that gangly mass-market aesthete can’t match Eric’s towering hooks and opaque mysticism. Eric himself doesn’t quite equal his past successes, but the innate loveliness of his music remains potent and seductive, and Six Kinds of Passion Looking For an Exit is a welcome if too-brief return. The news of his concord with Richard Davies should also make orch-pop fans almost as giddy as Eric is. Welcome back from vacation Eric. Now get to work.