For the past 20-plus years of Canadian artist, Matthew Good’s career, he has fearlessly expressed the ups and downs of his personal life, written poetic stories of human frailty, spoke out about socio-political issues and injustices, and explored the taboo subject of mental illness. His music and lyrics convey the search for truth, but also a sense of simply trying to evolve through the complications of life. Good’s most recent solo effort, Chaotic Neutral (September 2015), released under Warner Music Canada, covers a wide spectrum of topics and musical flavours.
The first single, “All You Sons and Daughters”, delivers a powerful instrumental lushness, with its strong message of hanging onto one’s youth. “Kid Down The Well”, also has that hypnotic quality, effective in its instrumental surges, lyrical content and gorgeous octave vocal stretches between Good and guest singer, Holly McNarland. Straight-out rockers, “No Liars”, and the fierce, “Army Of Lions”, offer contrasting elements to the slower brooding, emotionally charged pieces, “Tiger By The Tail”, and “Los Alamos”. All eleven tracks continue to grow on me with every listen, bringing me a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the words, and an intensified appreciation of Good’s well-crafted songwriting. I asked Good about where the title of the album, Chaotic Neutral came from:
“It’s from Dungeons and Dragons. It’s basically what the character chooses to be – good, evil, or neutral, in conjunction with the choice from the paradigm between chaos and law. So a chaotic neutral character is a person who believes very deeply in personal freedom, but they’re also random in their thought processes and actions…unpredictable. It reflects what the record does, covering the range of rock ‘n roll and topics. I thought that it fit.”
Good once again, brought in close friend, and producer, Warne Livesey (Midnight Oil, The The, Deacon Blue) for this album, and decided to take a backseat in terms of his own role in production, and more the front-runner as an artist. He brought in musicians, Blake Manning (drums), Stu Cameron (guitar), Bones Hillman (Midnight Oil – bass), Anthony Wright (piano), Sam Goldberg Jr. (Broken Social Scene), and Holly McNarland (backing vocals). Manning, Cameron, and Hillman, will also be joining Good on his upcoming tour.
“Even when I’m producing with Warne, who’s produced the majority of my records for the last 18 years, I’m usually always in the jump seat with him, going over stuff. Everytime we do a record, we try to come at it a little differently. When we did White Light Rock & Roll Review (2004), we did it live off the floor. On Chaotic Neutral, it was more my stepping out of it, and letting it be what it’ll be. It’s kind of a difficult thing to explain, because when you work with someone for so long, you really almost know what they’re thinking. When it came to guitar sounds, etc., I pretty much just left it all up to him.”
My favourite piece on the album, “Moments”, touches on the recurring topic of mental illness that Good frequently writes about. The song transitions from its beautiful winding melody, into a cloud-parting, blue sky hugeness that bursts with optimism.
“I think even before I was diagnosed with it, making music has always been therapeutic in that respect, as much as it has been a by-product. “Moments”, is actually in reference to a friend of my wife’s son, a grown man now, who suffers from mental illness, and has been a fan of mine for a long time. He sent a letter to me, and I thought, I’ve touched on this subject so many times in ways that were very melancholy, so I decided this time to write something positive. He wrote me back again, overjoyed that I wrote it. I wouldn’t have had I not received that letter from him. I thought it was important to shed some optimism on the subject, otherwise, all you’re really doing is feeding it.”
“Cold Water”, tells the story of an east coast mariner who survives being lost at sea and returns home only to find his wife gone, assuming he’d died in the storm. The tragic tale is emphasized by the song’s melancholy piano melody and its gentle, rocking rhythm.
“The story is one I made up. I’m big into period pieces of literature and I wanted it to sound like an early 19th century yarn. I wrote the piano parts for it, but since I’m not really a pianist, I got Anthony Wright to play the parts on the album.”
Good’s interpretation of Kate Bush’s, “Cloudbusting”, was lovingly crafted as an homage to the artist. The essence of the song is fittingly captured with its strong piano backbone, building and changing tribal rhythms, and McNarland’s pure, crisp vocals that add brightness and texture to the material.
“It’s my favourite song off her album, Hounds Of Love (1985), but she’s not someone I would ever try to cover…it was just something I‘d wanted to do. We finished it and it turned out really well, and the comments were, “you should be proud of what you did here”. I would call it an homage, not a cover…you can never hope to touch or ever come close to the original.”
Matthew Good is gearing up for his cross-Canada tour, which will feature the support of fellow Canadian artist, Scott Helman. He looks forward to it and laughs, “I’m the 2nd youngest guy in the band, and I’m 45. After 20 years, it’s kinda like an old ladies’ tea party. But I love it.”
To win tickets to see Matthew Good, send an email to email@example.com with “Chaotic Neutral” in the subject header. We’ll pick a winner by random draw at noon on Friday, November 20, 2015.
Matthew Good plays at the NAC’s Southam Hall on November 26, 2015 at 8pm. Tickets start at $38 and are available here.