When Matt Zarley rallies through the finale chorus of “Change Begins With Me,” the muscular title track to his third full-length CD, it’s as if the sky has filled with a sonic kaleidoscope of bottle rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers and razzle-dazzle sparklers.
Zarley has long been anything but the archetypal openly gay ghetto entertainer whose career is based on beats per minute, and while Change has its moments of frolic, this is one of the year’s most idyllic pure pop collections. The handsome singer/songwriter (named one of People mag’s Hottest Bachelors in 2002) co-wrote all eight tracks alongside such collaborators and producers as Grammy winner Andy Zulla and Mark Picchiotti.
The piano-driven, string-laden midtempo "Perfect" hearkens the best of 90s’ boy band anthems—you'd swear Backstreet Boys were back—while peppy, harmony-drenched "I'll Always Remember" turns what could have been thematic sour grapes into a tasty wine cooler, as Zarley looks beyond an expired relationship. "I know I'm wiser than when we began, now I'm doing all I can to insure that I'm a better man," he reflects, gliding effortlessly across a melody so glossy and effervescent, it feels like summer will never end.
Another highlight, "Trust Me," amps the tempo, cleverly conjuring Toni Braxton’s "You’re Makin’ Me High," with its "baby, baby, baby" pre-chorus and tantalizing tease, "How do you know you won’t like something you haven’t tried/Surrender yourself, take a chance and trust me."
Back to the ballads: "Forgive Me (For Not Forgiving You)" addresses the predominant lyrical mandate of the album: You broke my fucking heart and I’m working my way back to health. The lyric offers an honest and wholly universal take on the fact that it’s just not that easy to put the past to bed: "I loved you but there’s not much I can do, you know how much it hurt to let you go/Why couldn’t you say what you mean, why didn’t you mean what you say, I cannot continue feeling this way…"
And then, as healing begins, Zarley reflects in the beautiful and mournful "Apology," "I’m sorry for the way we said goodbye, even though we’re over, I hope this closure will finally let me let you go."
There’s hope on the horizon, however, thanks to the launch single from Change, “WTF,” a maddeningly catchy dancefloor twirler that expresses disdain over a cheating lover, however, with a playful nod and a wink (not to mention a hot video with a happy ending). The track, which reached No. 21 on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart, was accompanied by a staggering 23 remixes, including Wideboys, Moto Blanco, Cutmore, Cevin Fisher, Joe Gauthreaux and Edson Pride.
While it may be unrealistic to think corporate top 40 radio will indulge the hitworthy Change Begins With Me, does that really matter anymore? The album has already fostered a mountain of press from the likes of The Advocate, Radar, Playbill, The Washington Blade, The Dallas Voice and every gay-friendly blog known to man. For anyone that hears Matt Zarley, he’s an immediate favorite, straight or gay. This is indeed music for the masses. And that is the greatest change anyone could hope for.
Change Begins With Me is available on iTunes. Click here.