he politically minded, rabidly opinionated Canadian Matthew Good has been making music for over a decade, rising through the ranks of Canadian rock and record labels to become one of the country’s most respected rock acts—both as the Matthew Good Band and slightly less so flying solo as Matthew Good, which he has been doing for about five years now. The “musician, activist, and author,” as his website states, has now released the evocative and ironically titled Hospital Music, a stone-faced flurry of work documenting a bipolar diagnosis and the ensuing challenges of its symptoms, labels, and medication, as well as its influence on a significant other I will refer to as “honey,” since he does.
I have loved Good and his band, who parted ways after differences of opinions and contract issues (documented on matthewgood.org) from the beginning, through sinister narratives about U.S. government acronyms, pornography, love, sheepish group psychology, anarchism, depression, and drugs, and I have been moved by the man’s transgression from sad, popular rock anthems to benighted, existential, underwritten meanderings—his music matured with me. But this album seems to mark our parting ways, perhaps not forever, but for now. Knowing what this album is about and relating to some of it makes this harder, but the fact is, this album is as leaden and maudlin as Neon Bible, certainly cooler, calmer, and less pretentious, but also less passionate. If this led to anything else than a series of horrid downers, then fine. But I can only take so many (say, 38) downers from this guy.
The 15 tracks here include a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Moon Over Marin” and Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End,” the latter of which caps the album on a happy note, though the effect is such that we find Good so exhausted by true love’s absence and other troubles to really be able to appreciate having found it with more than a half-lidded nod in musical form. The hailstorm of “99% of Us is Failure” is a case where this kind of jarring sadness works: with full-bodied instrumentation, delightful details and comforting but dark harmonies, “99%” beckons to late-career MGB, who toiled in Good’s melodramatic imagination to create their career-snuffing The Audio of Being (2002), as inward-turning as a radio-ready band could possible get. (Needless to say, it was not the album the label wanted.)
Good has always flitted, or roiled, between complex metaphors and spit-heavy tirades and the softer narratives impelled by romance; in most cases this yields the dichotomy of gorgeous melody with ugly story (the predictably undercooked “Black Helicopter” and the meatier “The Devil’s in Your Details,” sort of) and sappy note-taking with creepy note-playing. On this solo it’s no different. Good expresses just about everything he can: voice recordings of dramatic statements like, “I want it all,” repeated by a man, then a woman, ad infinitum. It means something if a) you’ve been thinking about that concept yourself recently and b) you like Good unconditionally and c) you empathize with his manifold plight. But can you listen to the music, or rather, may you?
As an audio documentary of Good’s state of affairs, the album succeeds, probably with the knowledge that only prior fans will imbibe this drizzle and sunshower sentimentality; this won’t in any great measure convert naysayers or ignorants, but for that we have a—for fans, long-awaited—solemn spread on the iTunes Music Store.