Released on April 30, 1996, Dave Matthews Band’s sophomore studio effort — which netted four Grammy nominations and has sold in excess of 7 million copies — still stands as the act’s commercial apex.
All the rules that we had on the first album, I decided to break on this one — Steve Lillywhite
Jam rock had produced several monster records before it, including the Spin Doctors’ Pocket Full of Kryptonite, Blues Traveler’s Four and DMB’s Under the Table and Dreaming. Yet Crash tops them all in sales and sustained legacy. It represents nothing less than the pivotal moment when jam rock — after having existed for years as the subculture de rigueur for Frisbee-wielding shagsters — fully conquered mainstream pop.
But unlike the tightly-scripted Under the Table and Dreaming, its follow up achieved global success by accentuating the dense, progressive-minded fusion of rock, world, jazz and folk that the outfit unleashed in their beloved live shows. Rather than reign in their frenetic ensemble interplay and intricate composing, DMB instead dragged those qualities into the spotlight.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, in his review for AllMusic, cites the set’s conspicuous lack of “strong pop hooks” and “memorable melodies.” Indeed, the punchy jive of “Ants Marching” and “What Would You Say” is nowhere to be found. Listeners are instead immersed in the meditative swell-and-murmur of “Crash Into Me” and the knotty sprawl of fusion-drenched “Tripping Billies.”
At the time, the success of Crash overshadowed just how different it was from Under the Table and Dreaming. Each seemed to bleed into the other during DMB’s swift rise to rock stardom in the mid ’90s. In retrospect, however, it’s all too clear that the album’s willful complexity was an expression of the band’s desire to buck against their own stardom.
Producer Steve Lillywhite, who worked with Matthews throughout most of the ’90s, told NPR, “All the rules that we had on the first album, I decided to break on this one. On Under the Table we only had acoustic guitars. On this album we decided to amp up the acoustic guitars to give it a bit more of a rock feel. On the first album I pared down drummer Carter Beauford, who is one of the greatest drummers in the world. I also stopped him from doing certain fills. On this album I decided ‘Let’s go for it,’ and, in fact, it’s a lot more robust album.”
Recording for Crash commenced in the fall of 1996. The band joined Lillywhite at the legendary Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York (where they recorded their debut), and the quintet were primed and ready to create music that would challenge their rapidly growing fanbase. Their chops certainly were tighter than ever. After all, they had just spent the previous two years touring pretty much nonstop, including multiple treks across the States and Europe, and a string of high-profile dates at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre with The Grateful Dead.
The sessions lasted four months, during which time the group meticulously blended together Matthews’ composing with their collective improvisational skills until the two were indistinguishable from each other. It’s a process that would blossom on subsequent releases, but at the time was very much a novel approach for the group. It resulted in Crash boasting no less than six cuts credited to multiple songwriters.
The album debuted at No. 1 and immediately after its release, DMB launched into yet another epic stretch of touring. Only this time around the venues were even bigger and the crowds even more fanatical. Crash had made them the biggest band on the planet. Yet that fame eventually turned into a grind.
In a candid conversation on the Charlie Rose Show, Matthews said, “You can burn yourself out very quickly, if you’re everywhere.” This ominous statement, made in 1999, came at a time when the band was shedding their youthful innocence and entering into a stretch of deep introspection and experimentation that would last throughout most of the 2000s. Whether consciously or not, the Dave Matthews Band never did return to the dizzying commercial heights of the Crash era.