As his second solo album after spending seventeen years with Supergrass, Matador marks an interesting time in Gaz Coombes’ career. The first real chance to either solidify the direction of his music or switch it up entirely in an attempt to find a new solo sound. This is an example of the latter outcome, but problem with changing things in such a manner is that it doesn’t always work out as well as it should have; this is one of those cases.
Matador is an experimental effort, but in the sense that it’s a departure from his previous material rather than there being a lot of playing around with genres or musical ideas. It’s a dark album musically, dominated by sluggish drum beats, whirring ambient electronics and a few instruments here or there where it seems fitting. The album opens with Buffalo, which slowly raises and dips between explosive choruses where Gaz struggles to sing over the instruments and verses packed with piano, violin and electronic sounds. Two songs later, The English Ruse raises the tempo for the album’s most energetic cut, barring the ethereal bridge complete with an ominous angelic choir, shoving two completely disparate elements into a song to see if they work. After this point, it’s a consistent stream of moody songs at a similar mid-paced tempo with similar instruments and sounds in each.
The album isn’t without its valiant attempt to increase listener interest, though. After spending almost two decades with Supergrass and now spending a couple of years on two solo albums, Gaz has learnt how to do a decent job at selling his songs based on vocals alone. This could have acted as a true saving grace for Matador.
Unfortunately, while his vocal delivery is great, it remains the same throughout seven of the later eight songs (With Is It On? acting as a short instrumental interlude), which only helps to contribute to the laboured listening experience. Of course, this tone lends itself to deep introspective lyrics well, which is something the album carries in spades. It’s unfortunate that they don’t do much to improve the package.
Matador isn’t a terrible album, and Gaz should get some credit for moving away from the upbeat rock sound of his first solo album. The main issue is that it reads as one idea repeated numerous times over thirty-nine minutes, rather than a proper progression in a different direction. The premise of the album is clear to see, and with a bit of work it could’ve been really good. Instead, Matador is just okay.