Dave Matthews Band’s latest “Away from the World” shouldn’t be judged alone by its single “Mercy,” a rock lite Good-Feeling Word Salad that clings hard to the teeth. It means well, a sentiment that could describe just a couple of songs off of this Steve Lillywhite-produced set, but bombs compared to one of its “Worldly” companions like “Gaucho,” another and more refined expression of the disappointment and dealings with the “World’s” inequity.
It’s all about taming those flourishes, and it’s Lillywhite whose gift is to parse the excessive elements of an instrumentally gifted band. After more than 20 years, they ought to be capable of doing it themselves, yet they end up with tracks like “Snow Outside” which sounds like 30 tracks when five or six could do. Be forewarned, too, that despite its epic buildup and release, “Drunken Soldier” ambles on eternally like a… well, you know.
However, there’s at least a pair of tracks that (thankfully) strip down to skivvies: ukulele-led “Sweet” is an appropriate title for a tender exercise in happy accidents while “Belly Full” is only one guitar and one vocal.
Carter Beauford has always been and remains the metronomic glue for the band, despite the gentle caw of its namesake’s voice or the stable of backing players. He’s especially poignant on creeper “The Riff,” Matthews’ bedroom-eyed break with reality. “[I] take another drink / so I can lose control,” Matthews growls from the “Rooftop,” the sort of uninhibited “sweet spot” that attracted listeners to begin with. “I want / you to / tell me that you want me.” You can tell he means it, ‘cause of all of the blaring instruments.