Student becomes master

It’s quite fun floating conspiracy theories that Dave Matthews would rather be Sting.

I mean, really — how many mainstream rock bands have employed a full-time saxophone player since the late 1980s? Heck, Matthews does the former Gordon Sumner one better by including a full-time violinist.

And for anyone really combing for evidence [raises hand sheepishly], Matthews’ latest album Everyday provides some disturbing proof. That is, Matthews does a better job of being Sting than, well, Sting.

Let’s face it — Sting has released some turkeys as of late. He can still write a great chorus, but his verses are muddled, clumsy prose squeezed into the confines of a pop tune. Sort of like what Paul Simon does.

On Everyday, Matthews pretty much follows this same aesthetic. His verses can be pretty jam-packed with lengthy phrases that spill all over the music, but somehow the song comes together for a rousing chorus.

With Alanis Morissette producer Glen Ballard twidling the knobs, the fat (i.e., those DMB jams) has been cut from Everyday, leaving only straight-forward, meticulously-crafted pop.

In short, Everyday is what Sting would sound like if he wasn’t too busy trying to be fancy.

Really. Just try to imagine Sting delivering the chorus of “Dreams of Our Fathers” or “The Space Between” or “If I Had it All”. On “Fool to Think,” Leroi Moore sounds just like Branford Marsalis and Matthews’ electric guitar work literally rings of Andy Summers.

All that’s missing from the opening measures of “What You Are” is a guy singing in Arabic.

Perhaps the Dave Matthews/Sting parallel reaches its apex on “Mother Father.”

While Carlos Santana provides a bit of international flair with a beautiful acoustic guitar lick, Matthews takes the proverbial weight of the world on his shoulders.

“Mother father please explain to me,” Matthews sings. “How a man who rocks his child to sleep/Yet pulls the trigger on his brother’s heart/He digs a hole right to the middle of a storm of hatred.”

At the chorus, the song takes a decidedly Celtic turn and Matthews turns into man belting out Really Big Questions. Sting hasn’t done anything this good in a long time.

So is Dave Matthews ripping Sting off? Again?

Far from it. If hero worship really is going on here, then Everyday is a clear case of the student mastering the master. Matthews has delivered a set of incredible tunes with enough complexity to make it interesting but not overbearing.

And they’re all performed pretty damn well.

Of course, Matthews’ brand of American rock can’t be confused with Sting’s brand of jazz-pop. And on “I Did It” and “So Right”, Matthews sounds like the white soul guy he is. (Although on “Angel,” Matthews decides to be “Everybody Hurts”-era Michael Stipe.)

Still, it’s a fun exercise. Hero worship isn’t a bad thing unless it can be disguised very well, and it gets even better when the worshipper does the idol one better.