Blast from the past: Matt Maltese’s 2018 “Bad Contestant” resonates with 2020


Scarlett Carlos Clarke

ONE BIG PLATE: The album cover for Bad Contestant shows Maltese looking very bored as he sits between a fighting older couple.

Sometimes an album can take on new meaning years later, especially when one of those years is 2020.

22-year-old South London artist Matt Maltese released ‘Bad Contestant,’ his long-awaited debut album on June 8, 2018. A collection of 12 days spent in Foxygen lead singer Johnathan Rado’s Los Angeles studio, and many hours of sessions with Londoner, Alex Burey, another talented singer-songwriter, Maltese’s album displays a no less than stunning leap into songwriting confidence, as evident in the tracklist.

Maltese reflects on his personal life through gloom-tinted spectacles, dismissing the problems of the world through a series of “anti-love” songs. He paints a depressing picture of both modern society in 2018, and his own failing love life. However, despite all the gloom and doom lyrics that Maltese dumps on his listeners through the image of a hopeless apocalypse and lacking romance, Maltese leaves you with a smile on your face.

The album opens with ‘Greatest Comedian’, a song that appears to be full of love and admiration until you really listen to the lyrics which are chocked full of backhanded compliments. The lyric “you’re a final piece of wartime bread” has you questioning Maltese’s true motives while the smooth music in the background completely opposes the statement itself.

Meanwhile, ‘Bad Contestant,’ the album’s namesake, sees Maltese question his own ability using various metaphors to paint himself as the hopeless lover: “I’m a dead end, a budget hotel.” Despite this pessimism, this artist keeps his listeners smiling all the way through with these comparisons, often throwing in surprise imagery to keep you interested and wanting more.

This record closes with two hauntingly apocalyptic songs. Maltese accepts the world’s end in the song “As the World Caves In” in which he smothers this depressing concept with ironic lyrics such as, “I paint my fingernails, oh we’re going out in style,” as if the apocalypse and end of humanity is something worth celebrating. 

The album closer, “Mortals” follows on after this apocalypse as Maltese considers where we went wrong, again with a splash of satire: “I should have bought the electric car.” Each song contributes to Maltese’s story as he opens up about his personal life, which at times seems as hopeless as the rest of this despondent planet.

Maltese’s hopeless lyrics and smooth jazz instrumentals really speak to the tone and overall vibe of 2020 as this chaotic year draws to a close. While times may be tough and it feels like the world is crashing down around us, there will always be music that will touch our hearts, no matter if it came out of a time machine or if it was released yesterday.