Matchbox Twenty was just getting good when it went on an unofficial hiatus a few years ago: On 2002's More Than You Think You Are, the group took the grunge-lite mush that had quietly made it one of America's most successful bands and morphed it into sexy disco-rock. The transformation afforded frontman Rob Thomas the chance to display the Mick Jagger side he'd always had to conceal in order to avoid alienating his red-state frat-boy fans.
Luckily Thomas gets the chance to inhabit that persona again on Something to Be, his solo debut. Untainted by the memory of bar-band crap like "Push," its sly pop is appealingly reminiscent of "Smooth," Thomas' 1999 duet with Carlos Santana. Something is flush with rhythm, texture, and melody, and though Thomas sings as if he's in an Olympic event -- grunting, sighing, and gasping with competitive gusto -- he's also willing to get sensitive: "When the Heartache Ends" rewrites "I Want It That Way" so gracefully that Thomas could find future work in boy-band ghostwriting. Live, Thomas still performs as if he thinks he has to prove himself. But, really, he's already done that.