Dave Matthews Band is still obsessed with death—and, alternately, singing and dancing and generally being merry—on the band’s first album in four years, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. It’s also their first album since the unexpected death of saxophonist and founding member LeRoi Moore, who reportedly served as inspiration for the latter half of the album’s title as well as its front cover, and whose specter can be heard playing sax on the opening track “Grux.” Produced by Rob Cavallo, Big Whiskey is a step back toward the more polished sound DMB explored on 2001’s divisive Everyday—that is to say, a step away from the 2005’s return-to-form Stand Up. Matthews’s electric guitar is featured prominently on tracks like “Shake Me Like a Monkey,” which harks back to the band’s early hits, replete with quasi-provocative lyrics: “I like coffee with toast and jelly/But I’d rather be licking from your back to your belly.” If that line doesn’t quite live up to “Hike up your skirt a little more and show your world to me,” neither does the entirety of “Baby Blue,” an acoustic ballad with a decidedly “Crash Into Me” vibe. The topical “Dive In” is a meditation on climate change in which Matthews manages to find the figurative bright side of melting glaciers, while the lyric “Standing on a bridge, watch the water passing under me/It must’ve been much harder when there was no bridge, just water,” from lead single “Funny the Way It Is,” is apparently what passes for spiritual observation in the frontman’s world these days. That’s not to say there aren’t some bright spots on Big Whiskey: “Alligator Pie,” an ode to New Orleans and Matthews’s daughter Stella, captures the electricity of the band’s famous live performances, while “Squirm,” the album’s biggest highlight, is a dark, orchestral, and subtly menacing song reminiscent of some of DMB’s best work.
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