Matt Maltese

Driving Just To Drive review | Matt Maltese stays in the middle lane

The best moments on Matt Maltese’s fourth record, Driving Just To Drive, are when the 25-year-old singer-songwriter lets himself go – something that appears a little too infrequently on the album as a whole.


Matt Maltese’s latest record, the nonchalantly titled Driving Just To Drive, begins from a curious perspective. ‘Mother’, also the album’s lead single, isn’t so much a tribute to the parental feminine touch as it is a fresh perspective on a breakup – reassessing the loss of a relationship from the perspective of the 25-year-old’s mum (“she was the daughter you never had / And I know sometimes you might miss her”).

It’s this considerate maturity that has defined much of Maltese’s output. In fact, since whynow first spoke to him, Maltese has always been, quite simply, a lovely bloke. Crooning with a distinctive, deep baritone, he has all the wholesomeness of eating fish and chips out the side of a beachside camper van, or settling into a book by a fire. 

And when it comes to matters of the heart, he supplies consolation in spades, ever-willing to pour out his feelings at the piano, like a lovelorn, Gen-Z Rufus Wainwright (who, like Reading-born Maltese, is also half-Canadian, “the worst of both worlds hence the best,” Maltese jokes in the new album’s track ‘Mortician’).

Driving Just To Drive review

It’s therefore no surprise Maltese has been turned to by the likes of Jamie T and Joy Crookes in recent years, with songwriting credits on both their latest albums. The mildly corny ‘songwriter’s songwriter’ tag isn’t ill-placed when it comes to describing him.

From a compositional standpoint, Driving Just To Drive is an expectedly respectable record. Clean, mostly poetically penned and with a few nifty chord progressions. But it lacks a certain oomph, a joie de vivre; it ends up simply doing as it vows, driving just to drive.

There’s nothing off-putting about the supple ‘Irony Would Have It’, with its jaunty keys and hushed vocals; nor the billowing chanson of the album’s title track, for instance. Trouble is, among the album as a whole, they sound a little predictable.

‘Museum’, another previously released single, which reflects on Maltese’s old desire to leave his suburban hometown of Reading, epitomises the album’s shortcomings. The triumphant horns feel contained, striving to hit each note perfectly.

In fact, you’d hardly notice Asha Lorenz’ backing vocals on the track, which is a shame because the Sorry frontwoman’s existential verve is exactly what Driving Just To Drive would do well to have more of. Sometimes, it’s the imperfections that strike the sweetest.

To that end, four albums in, and something more novel would have been welcome. The jazzy lo-fi of ‘Coward’ featuring another compelling artist in Biig Piig, this time in more pronounced fashion, points at what this could have potentially been. Equally, the all-out chorus of ‘Hello Black Dog’ provides a moment where Maltese does let go, his soaring vocals almost lifting him from his piano stool.

‘Widows’ would be more interesting if the Connan Mockasin-like vocal squeals were leaned into a bit more, lifting the album at its midpoint through oddity, instead of being a relatively soggy middle. The final track ‘But Leaving Is’ comes and goes, akin to French exit.

Maltese’s most popular song ‘As The World Caves In’, both on Spotify and TikTok, works so well because it holds nothing back. Imagining the end of the world, and inspired by the prospect of former heads of state Theresa May and Donald Trump spending a night of romance together before triggering a worldwide nuclear explosion, it brought this existentialism to bear. Maltese’s voice is enough to bring the house down.

Matt Maltese

Photo: Reed Schick

Driving Just To Drive certainly has its moments, a harmless record that pricks up your ears in parts. It certainly pays to be a safe driver, but sometimes you wish at this stage in his catalogue, Maltese would just put his foot down. Or better yet, let go of the wheel, feel the thrill of not being in control.

If that all sounds a bit unhinged, perhaps that’s a product of the wild and turbulent times in which we live – where we need suitably out-there music to satisfy us.

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