Blue Matches is a four-piece rock band that takes a lot of inspiration from modern rock bands popular around the turn of the century. The band features vocalist Michelle Marston, guitarist Steven Edwards, drummer Phillip Brown and bassist Stephen Smith (also a member of Nuclear Bubble Wrap, Lipstick and other area acts). Edwards, who formed the band while attending MTSU, seems to be the mastermind behind the project, as he wrote all the lyrics and music for Center of the Universe, as well as co-produced (with Smith) and co-recorded (with Jordan Logue) the project.
Blue Matches’ radio-ready alternative rock sound with elements of modern punk will appeal to fans of the genre, but the lyrics may leave a little to be desired. The 13-song follow-up to 2015’s Fear the Truth EP features a mix of straightforward rockers and politically poetic tracks, with the latter bogging down the release in my opinion.
One example of this is “Prophets and Paramilitaries,” which combines themes of police brutality and rioting. However, the verses don’t uniformly connect, the perspectives seem to abruptly change and the sub-par vocal mix makes it impossible to understand the meaning without over-analyzing the lyrics. The chorus references Billie Holiday’s controversial 1939 recording “Strange Fruit” (which is about the unjust lynching of African Americans), but the aforementioned issues just don’t make it clear why the reference is there.
“Vanity” is written as an “introspective reflection on the fashion and beauty industry,” but to the average listener it comes off as a vague lambast of capitalism and pride mixed with seemingly random verses relating a personal tale. Furthermore, the ska-influenced “Fatty Gets Off” is a fun listen, but the character’s story in the lyrics just isn’t unpacked clearly. Also, the meaning of a song named after a medieval torture device (“Pear of Anguish”) is virtually undecipherable.
The album fares much, much better when the lyrics aren’t so loaded. “Watch the Sun Explode” is a beautifully apocalyptic love tale with a riff akin to Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench.”
“White Mouse” is a straightforward cut discussing a subject’s desire for a cure or fix for some type of ailment, mixing loaded imagery with simpler themes that hit a lyrical sweet spot for the band. “Upward Arms” is a solid, focused take on the military and war, but it does suffer a bit from some forced vocal phrasing (as do some other spots on the project).
It’s clear that a lot of time and thought went into the album’s lyrics, and they’re poetic on paper. Personal, detailed songwriting is key in any good album, but it shouldn’t come at the price of alienating or confusing the listener.
Blue Matches’ Center of the Universe is available on Spotify, Soundcloud, iTunes and Amazon.