Matthew Good’s Hospital Music holds a special place in my heart. It came out in 2007, when I was living in Oakland, chest deep in depression and anxiety, and going to therapy, trying to really undo many of the long-extant knots in my brain. It’s an album with a lot of baked-in trauma…Good’s disastrous first marriage disintegrated; a close friend of his lost his mother to cancer; overcome with anxiety, he overdosed on Ativan and woke up in the hospital. He committed himself to the psychiatric ward, and was soon afterward diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which explained so much about his erratic behavior over the years, especially in terms of his relationship with the press. He got professional help and has since become a strong and outspoken mental health advocate, not to mention a more stable and thoughtful public presence. But I digress. Hospital Music, besides being one of his best overall albums, was bursting with subject matter that really resonated with me at the time. It possesses a rawness and honesty that resonated and still does.
Hospital Music is relatively unadorned, driven by acoustic guitars, basic electric lines, interesting use of samples and found sound, and unaltered, heartbreaking gobs of Good’s expressive voice. It’s an album like the best beers: made from all-natural ingredients and slightly bitter. You need the venom-spitting put-downs of “Born Losers” and “She’s in It for the Money” to get to the admission of personal failure of “Metal Airplanes” and the epic, broken-brain-laid-bare of “Champions of Nothing.” It’s what makes empathetic songs like “99% of Us Is Failure” and “A Single Explosion” hit twice as hard as they already would. “The Devil’s in Your Details” explores the idea that it takes two to lie—one to tell it and one to believe it. The album also reveals new layers to Good’s songwriting—“The Boy Come Home” is inspired by his correspondence with Iraq War veterans, and marked the beginning of him writing about PTSD/advocating for veterans’ mental health. It’s also is full of small jewels, including reworked, acoustic covers of the Dead Kennedys’ “Moon Over Marin” and Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End” (a genius choice to close the album). Both fit the record’s mood to a T.
Hospital Music is beloved, by me and many fans, not only because of the quality of its songs, but because it’s an occasionally uncomfortable, always unflinchingly honest glimpse into a man’s damaged head. It reverberates with unease and betrayal, but also self-recrimination, perseverance and, ultimately, the strength it takes to admit mistakes, seek help, and attempt improvement. | Mike Rengel