June 05, 2000 12:00 PM

Matchbox Twenty (Atlantic)

Album of the week

Call it the Hootie principle. Because pop fans suffer severe attention deficit, or because they’re just fickle, few rock bands survive a long hiatus between albums without sinking back into the obscurity from which they sprang. Luckily, the Southern quintet once known as Matchbox 20—the group now inexplicably spells out the numeral—has avoided the fate suffered by the Blowfish and other one-CD wonders. Thanks go to the mile-high profile of lead singer-songwriter Rob Thomas, who helped “Smooth” Carlos Santana’s astounding comeback last year. Now Thomas again acquits himself nicely in a daunting task: following the 10 million-selling 1996 debut Matchbox set, Yourself or Someone Like You, with this mostly splendid sophomore cycle of tunes, all 13 of which (plus a hidden bonus track) he wrote or cowrote. Best of all is the title song, with an irresistible power-ballad hook, and “Rest Stop,” about a poor sot whose girlfriend kicks him out of her car and her life. Few singers can make a romance gone bad sound so good.

Bottom Line: Smooth return

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