Audio Mixers: Joe Zook; Serban Ghenea.
Recording information: Carriage House Studios; Dirty Canvas Studios; Downtown Studios; Emblem Studios; Frequency Studios; Germano Studios; MixStar Studios; Revolution Recording; Sunset Sound Studios; Treshold Studios; Warehouse Studio.
Returning to solo status after the 2012 Matchbox 20 reunion -- this time, the group didn't go on hiatus; they merely took a break while their singer pursued other projects -- Rob Thomas decided to broaden his horizons on 2015's The Great Unknown by working with a variety of different producers and collaborators this time around. Still on board in an executive producer role is Matt Serletic (the producer who's worked with Thomas for nearly 20 years), and the singer/songwriter also enlists OneRepublic mastermind Ryan Tedder and Jason Derulo/Jessie J producer Ricky Reed to give him a modern pop life. This new blood is notable on The Great Unknown, which is considerably livelier than 2009's contemplative Cradlesong. He hasn't entirely abandoned power ballads -- it's in his blood and it's something he does well, as evidenced by "Paper Dolls" and the spare, piano-anchored closer "Pieces" -- and he retains a fondness for surging, insistent anthems, the kind that fill arenas and airwaves with equal ease. There's a levity here, though, that's often absent on his albums, either on his own or with his band. Who knows what's responsible for the shift? But the lightness is palpable and welcome, whether it surfaces on the cheerfully cheesy come-on "I Think We'd Feel Good Together" or the modulated disco pulse of "Things You Said" and "Trust You," the first single from Thomas since "Smooth" that could qualify as an unabashed party. The good vibes aren't limited to tracks designed to be hits, either: there's also the sunny, skipping "Hold On Forever," the stomping beats of "Wind It Up," the pan-global exuberance of "One Shot," and the digital horn stabs of "Absence of Affection," each adding momentum and cheer to an album that deliberately side-steps many of Thomas' signature moves while still sounding unmistakably like him. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine