"Given that I'm in a country where the popularity of the president is comparable to that of Nixon during Watergate, one would think there would be a general disdain for the administration here. You also have to factor in that 71 percent of the country now believes they're in a war they shouldn't be."
Matthew Good is on the line from Buffalo, the single American stop on his mammoth acoustic tour in support of his heart-
exposing new record, Hospital Music. (It stops in Halifax on October 11.) Though known in Canada for more than a decade's worth of lyrically complex rock—much of that a string of hits with the Matthew Good Band, which dissolved in 2001, and Hospital Music is Good's third release as a solo artist—he's known on the internet as an essayist and critical thinker, dissecting and discussing world events on a daily basis at
matthewgood.org. He says crossing the border makes little difference these days—people are disaffected across North America, so it's easy to address politics on record and on stage, no matter where he is.
"And for Americans especially you can talk about the degradation of civil liberties, the Patriot Act," he says. "You find common, ordinary, everyday people who wouldn't normally think about these things suddenly finding themselves very upset about it. People who wouldn't take the time to consider it to go, "That's crap.' These people aren't really honestly being informed. Unfortunately on this continent you have to look at the media for that. Infotainment. We rely on infotainment and fear. And no one's guiltless of it, you know."
Though he never talks more passionately than when he's on about the Bush administration—2004's White Light Rock and Roll Revue featured a number of songs on the subject, including the modest hit "Alert Status Red"—Hospital Music takes a different tack almost completely. (There is "Black Helicopters," in which Good declares, "Only killers call killing "progress.'") It covers a year in which he uncovered unsavoury details about his wife, divorced her, overdosed in his parents' shower and discovered he's bipolar. He summarizes that time in a couple sentences out of the epic, nine-minute, 34-second opener, "Champions of Nothing" "And I'd say what you say/but it makes me feel nothing/so there's a man waiting/to take me to something."
Never a peppy, hopeful kind of songwriter on his happiest days, Hospital Music is 13 tracks (plus two covers) of blistering anger.
Sometimes strings project melancholy, sometimes an acoustic treatment distracts, sometimes it's driving and obviously pissed off—Good produced for the first time and played all the instruments save drums and a few bits—but betrayal permeates to the point where there's no question what's being written about. It's a hard listen.
"People have to be able to put certain things in context," he says. "When it comes to talking about things like mental illness, why should I be limited to a certain avenue? Either you choose to show yourself or you hide yourself. I've never been the person who chooses to hide."
It's one of the reasons this tour, which began in September and will cover the country until mid-November, is called Nothing to Hide, and why Good is presenting his sonically ambitious record solely through his voice and his acoustic guitar.
"I think it translates better as the record's content is concerned," he says. "It gives you the opportunity to present it to people in the format in which I wrote it."
After an hour's worth of lines like "She could never flat-out say that she don't want me/cause I could never say that halfway ain't enough" and "I'm in love with your pills/I tried to get rid of myself," Hospital Music ends with a two-minute demo of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End," a surprising finale for an audio documentary about the end of a marriage.
"I feel a strong connection with Daniel Johnston's music and what he's gone through in his life," says Good. "I think there's an irony in that song that's rather poignant. That a man who's been through what he has was able to write something of that nature was very fitting."
Matthew Good w/Dala, October 11 at The Marquee Club, 2037 Gottingen, 10pm, (sold out).