For being “just another mid-90s alternative band,” Matchbox 20 were far and away one of the most successful bands during their original run from 1995-2003. Their debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You went 12x Platinum (certified Diamond by the RIAA for sales of more than 10 million copies), and for good reason – it had one hell of a front side, which is loaded with now alternative standards like “3 AM,” “Push,” and “Real World.” Lead singer Rob Thomas’ half Petty/half Vedder vocal mannerisms bridged the gap between post-grunge, alternative, and classic rock, and, after more than two years of promoting Yourself, he quickly became known as one of the most prolific adult alternative songwriters of his generation.
Maybe that’s why as the 20th century came to a close, Thomas was tapped to sing and write the lyrics to Santana’s “Smooth,” a runaway, nonstop, pack your bags certifiable hit, and was massive for nearly two years (1999-2000) and became one of the biggest songs of all time. By the new millennium, Thomas was an international superstar and a household name, despite only releasing one album four years prior, and featuring on one crazy good single. Regardless, he was at the peak of his powers in 2000, and Matchbox 20 benefited when they released their second album, Mad Season, in May of that year. Unsurprisingly, off the back of Thomas’ recent success, the first single from that album, “Bent,” reached #1 for one week on July 22, 2000.
In Thomas’ own words, “Bent” is “a co-dependent love song for the new millennium,” but, for having the honor as Matchbox 20’s only #1 single as a band, “Bent” is much less memorable than many of the band’s other songs. The real Achilles heel here is that the chorus to “Bent” is almost cringe-worthy, in terms of structure, rhyming and timing. The build-up is actually pretty typical by Thomas’ standards, and builds up anticipation nicely, but when Thomas sings “Can you help me I’m bent/I’m so scared that I’ll never/Get put back together,” you just end up kinda wondering how that set of lyrics and cadence ended up being left there. Without a memorable chorus, “Bent” ends up just hanging there as a half-hearted attempt to mimic what the band had previously done. Another key difference between “Bent” and the band’s previous efforts is that the songs off their debut album had some urgency and push (pun intended) to them, AND they were catchy to boot. Even Matchbox 20’s later singles like “Unwell,” “If You’re Gone,” and “Bright Lights” all had that same driving quality as their earlier work, but “Bent” was the song that came out right after “Smooth,” and so it got to #1 despite its flaws, while the band’s other, better singles never did (many got close, but were screwed by antiquated Billboard chart rules, more on that later).
I’ve never been one to shy away from my love of mid 90’s adult alternative, and if you’re interested in Matchbox 20, listen to Exile on Mainstream, a 2007 collection of new songs and a compilation of the 20’s (made that name up myself, let’s see if it sticks) greatest hits (you can skip “Bent”). Rob Thomas’ profile has lessened since Matchbox 20 went on hiatus from 2003-12, but has gone on to have a successful solo career, and a great cameo on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.