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Last of the Great Pretenders

Matt Nathanson

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Album Review

Matt Nathanson's 2013 effort, Last of the Great Pretenders, picks up on the glossy, melodic pop of 2011's Modern Love with a batch of catchy, radio-ready songs loosely conceptualized around Nathanson's adopted home of San Francisco. Although born in Massachusetts, Nathanson relocated to San Francisco in the '90s and built his career. Listening to Last of the Great Pretenders, one gets the sense that Nathanson's experiences living in the city shaped his songwriting, and the album comes off as part diary entry, part love letter. Nathanson has always had a knack for coming up with evocative, concrete imagery to hang his deeply romantic songs on, and San Francisco offers up plenty for him to draw upon. Primarily, he seems interested in the way his lovers and his memories of them seem to be entangled with his perceptions of the city. In "Kinks Shirt," he sings, "It's all there in your red fingernails/It's all there in your pigtails...can't stop thinking about the girl in the Kinks' shirt/Take me home, San Francisco." In "Annie's Always Waiting (For the Next One to Leave)," a dramatic anthem ready-made for a film soundtrack, Nathanson sings about talking to a girl under the Golden Gate Bridge. He sings, "She had a master's degree in disappointment, that's what she said to me/Laughed when she said it, flat on our backs in the grass out at Crissy Field." With Modern Love, Nathanson colored his yearning, singer/songwriter compositions with keyboards, electric guitars, horns, backing vocals, and even some light electronic flourishes. On Last of the Great Pretenders, Nathanson sticks to this same formula, striking a balance between the adult contemporary styling of Sarah Bareilles and the more indie-oriented approach of bands like MGMT. Which is to say that while Nathanson remains a thoughtful mainstream artist, the tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders have an urgent, creative energy that seems to harken back to his much earlier albums. Perhaps that is fitting, considering the album's tone of youthful exuberance and melancholy wonder, with Nathanson often ruminating on summers past spent in a "Berkeley basement," with "half read books and bold declarations," as he does on "Last Days of Summer in San Francisco." Ultimately, with Last of the Great Pretenders, Nathanson turns his memories of the city by the bay into a universally relatable metaphor for coming of age, reminding us how a place can hold sway over your identity long after you've moved on. As he sings on "Earthquake Weather," "I close my eyes, and I dream about you/Dream about you/Sun so bright, I'm just a shadow that's fading out."

Customer Reviews

A record that won't sell out

If you're a Matt Nathanson fan, you may take comfort in the fact that he wrote a record true to his own artist direction. That being said, my guess is you're not going to be totally thrilled with the collection of songs on "Last of the Great Pretenders".
Nathanson's strength is being able to connect romantically with an audience while also mixing in 70's and 80's rock influences. He is a rock bard who inspires you to sing along in the car. With the exception of Mission Bells and Sky High Honey, the record lacks the soul of Modern Love and the flow of Some Mad Hope. Granted it is a tall order to reproduce the prior success of two excellent albums, but I had hoped for either a new direction or a return to his accoustic roots. Instead, LOTGP sounds like the outtakes from Modern Love. It's a shame because if you substituted Mission Bells and Sky High Honey for Mercy and Kept, Modern Love probably would've gone platinum. My advice - download the singles and hope for an "At the Point" style revamp of these songs, stripped down and slowed down with healthy doses of Aaron Tapp back up vocals.


Now that I've streamed the album about 20 times this week I can honestly say that yes! Matt has done it again. So many artists put out discs with one or two good songs and 7 or 8 mediocre songs. For Matt, he thinks about making an album instead of one or two radio hits. This is a true collection of musical poems to his love for San Francisco. (which is okay because he will never forget that he is still a "Mass"hole).
I've been a fan for years and it's great how his fan base has grown. Buy this disc and then go back and buy everything and anything you can find.
Nathanson never disappoints!


I've been listening to this album non-stop via Pandora live stream, amazing. Looking forward to the release. Matt Nathanson is an amazing musician and performer. I always find myself going back to his songs, each album is better then the next. His songs are the perfect, put on repeat, have a glass of wine, let your emotions flow and enjoy it all.

Last of the Great Pretenders, Matt Nathanson
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Customer Ratings

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