Since Matchbox Twenty is a faceless group, recognizable for its hits rather than its image, it's easy to assume that the band is nothing more than a solo project in disguise for its frontman, lead singer and chief songwriter Rob Thomas (who should not be confused with Rob Thomas, the creator of UPN's 2005 cult TV series Veronica Mars). Not only is he prominent in the band's videos and press, but he scored the biggest hit of his career with "Smooth," a song he penned and sung for Santana's 1999 comeback, Supernatural. Even though Matchbox Twenty's 1996 debut, Yourself or Someone Like You, was a big hit and spawned four radio hits, "Smooth" was bigger than any of them, making Thomas famous, if not exactly a star. Instead of striking out for a solo career in 2000, he returned to his band, releasing Mad Season that year and More Than You Think You Are two years later. While both records had different moods -- the former was polished and radio-ready, the latter hit a little harder -- both found Thomas working as part of a unit, not as a flashy frontman. This may have illustrated how Matchbox Twenty worked as a band; in particular, More Than You Think You Are sounded like the work of a driven, cohesive unit, even the songs weren't quite up to snuff -- but they also had to sound a little workmanlike, and certainly not the product of the savvy cross-cultural crossover creator of "Smooth." Given the relatively lackluster reception of More Than You Think You Are, the timing was right for Thomas to launch his official solo career in the spring of 2005. It was time to give his music a new coat of paint, similar to how "Smooth" spun his career in a different direction, and that's exactly what his solo debut, Something to Be, is: a slick new variation on Thomas' signature sound.
With its anthemic choruses and achingly sincere sentiments, Something to Be is clearly the work of the lead singer/songwriter of Matchbox Twenty, yet it lacks the lean rock-oriented sound of the group's albums, even if it is helmed by Matt Serletic, who has produced all three of the band's records. Serletic and Thomas have made a conscious attempt to have this solo album feel lighter, brighter, and a little hipper than Matchbox Twenty's music, adding slight drum loops and electronic elements to the rhythms while taking Thomas away from strictly guitar-based arrangements. Heavy on keyboards, elastic guitars, horns, insistent rhythms, and even the occasional gospel-inspired backing chorus or worldbeat inflection, this is a far splashier affair than the average Matchbox Twenty album, and that alone would make Something to Be a noteworthy solo record, since it is indeed a different beast than Thomas' regular gig, but the fresher sound is married to a strong set of songs that play to his strengths as a craftsman of big, anthemic post-alternative mainstream rock. This isn't edgy work by any means -- and for as hooky and chorus-driven as it is, it's music that becomes memorable through repeated plays, never quite catching hold upon the first listen -- but it's more colorful and well-constructed than a lot of contemporary mainstream rock in the mid-2000s, and it's arguably more appealing than Matchbox Twenty's earnest guitar rock, which can occasionally seem rather drab. With Something to Be, Thomas delivers an album that is at once familiar and fresh. It may not be something to win over the doubters, but it's enough to give him a promising new beginning to the second decade of his recording career, not unlike how "Smooth" helped propel him through the post-grunge fallout of the new millennium. [Something to Be is one of the first albums to be released solely as a DualDisc -- a disc that contains a CD of the album on one side and a DVD of the album with extras on the second side. The DVD contains a 5.1 mix of the album, lyrics for the 12 songs (these lyrics are also printed in the album's booklet), a link to Thomas' website, a plug for his charity Sidewalk Angels Foundation, a photo gallery containing nine photos, and a 20-minute making-of-the-album documentary that contains footage of Thomas writing, Thomas singing a lead vocal, John Mayer recording his cameo, and, finally, a photo shoot with Thomas.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine