Arrows of Desire kicks off with its title track, a slice of bright alternative rock that seems to be a deliberate contrast to the moody, minor-key pieces of his previous effort, Lights of Endangered Species. The rest of the album follows a similar template, resulting in Matthew Good’s most rocking record since White Light Rock & Roll Review. But that album is nearly a decade old now, and with nearly 10 more years under his belt, Good isn’t quite as energetic anymore. There’s less sneering condescension on Arrows, less unbridled anger, less tortured despair. But as it turns out, old age suits Good quite well.
If anything, Good seems to recognize that he’s older now. He hints at it in the lyrics of “We’re Long Gone,” for instance. But it’s reflected in the music too: the instrumentation never gets too heavy, nor is it very showy. Good has largely eschewed the noodly guitar solos and lengthy instrumental passages that characterized much of his previous work, especially on Lights. Arrows is basically comfortable dad rock.
But if Good is doing dad rock now, you can bet that he’s going to put out the best damn dad rock album he possibly can. And he succeeds on that front: none of Arrow’s ten tracks is one of the best of his career, but almost all of them are great. Only “Mutineering” really fails to rise above listenable, and “So Close” could use a better hook than repeating the song’s title over and over again. However, the rest of the album shows why Matt Good continues to be one of Canada’s best songwriters. “Via Dolorosa” is at once understated and driving, and the one-two punch of “Had It Coming” and “We’re Long Gone” provides plenty of opportunity for headbanging. “Guns of Carolina” is one of Good’s prettiest songs, and “Garden of Knives” sees him flirting with industrial rock, creating a kind of churning, slow-burning feel that calls to mind some of his earlier tunes, like “Blue Skies Over Bad Lands” and “Advertising on Police Cars.”
Whatever Good is doing on Arrows isn’t revolutionary, but Good knows exactly how to pull off what he wants to do. Each song is meticulously crafted, ending just before wearing out its welcome, but never ending before finishing an entire musical idea. It’s rare to find anybody making good, straight-ahead alternative rock anymore, but Good is keeping it up.
If there’s an aspect in which the album lags slightly, it’s in the lyrics. They’re still solid, but they’re lacking the cleverness and raw emotion of his previous work, which is a bit of a disappointment coming from the guy who coined the term “first-world problems.”
Still, Arrows of Desire is a great record, and it’s one of the year’s best alternative rock albums. Dad rock need not be boring or embarrassing. Matthew Good is showing us all how to age gracefully.