Monday, May 11, 2009

The Sweet Life

Matthew Sweet keeps on truckin thru the 21st Century

It was clear Matthew Sweet had time on his mind following the Pet Soundsy In Reverse from 1999. All was quiet on the Sweet front in 2000 thru 2002, it wouldn't be until 2003 that he would resurface in an unexpected way. Sweet teamed up with fellow one hit wonders Shawn Mullen and Pete Droge to form the Crosby Stills and Nash lite group The Thorns. The trio had tight harmonies that recalled the best of CSN&Y while backing a strong lead single, I Can't Remember. I ran out and got the CD, only to confirm it was a lot like CSN&Y-just the later years. Like their forefathers, The Thorns suffered from weak material past the first single. The poppy "Long Hot Summer Night" and the one attempt at a rocker "Thorns" were OK and that was it. Everything else was a snoozy stroll through rehashed folk rock.

That same year, Sweet reassembled most of his Girfriend lineup of musicians to record a Japan only album Kimi Ga Suki (2003). The power popmeister dedicated himself to a quick cutting approach by recording the album in a week. Kimi Ga Suki is Sweet's liveliest album since 100% Fun, the tunes are fast and direct with the peppy harmonies and gnarled guitarwork that's expected. Songs like the fired up "The Ocean In-Between" or the laid back 70's AM radio pop "I Don't Want To Know" hit like thunder. Even in it's weaker moments (a week is not a lot of time for Sweet to write and develop songs) the album gets by on energy and snazzy musicianship.

2004 saw Sweet resume his solo career in earnest. With Living Things it seemed like Sweet had spent a little too much time in the Sun. Most of the songs have to do with nature, being stuck "In My Tree" in "Sunlight" while dealing with "Cats and Dogs". Musically, Sweet takes a few chances with steel drums and layered bass lines yet the songs themselves seem alien in subject matter. None of the songs really stick and it all goes by like background music.

Not that it would stop Sweet from continuing. Next, Sweet would pair up with Ming Tea partner Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) to record an album of 60's songs called Under The Covers, Vol 1 (2006). Sweet and Hoffs show outstanding taste in their song selection and inspired performance. There are classics from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Who and Neil Young rendered with a feel that's both professional and genuinely excited. Tunes like "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" sit comfortably aside lesser known 60's singles like "I See The Rain" by Marmalade. One of my favorite albums from 2006, it has warm memories of nice summer days and cruising around Napa with my wife.

I noticed Sweet seemed to get a little beefy and shaggy around now, looking like one of those guys who play World of Warcraft in their basement for a week straight in rumpled clothes and trucker hats. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Maybe he spent all that time in the studio resulting in releasing his most recent record Sunshine Lies (2008). On Lies, Sweet develops a careful balance between his gritty guitars of the early years and the polished Brian Wilsonisms of the later years. The title track is a blissful surge of 60's peace and love energy while the appropriately titled Byrdgirl soars. A steady album with some high points, Sunshine Lies is a pleasant tour of Sweet's best moves.
Matthew Sweet continues to fly under the radar dropping albums on a regular basis. Sweet's talent for 60's / 70's influenced power pop has developed over time, consistently delivering warm bittersweet harmony based tunes. And thanks to Guitar Hero he is not entirely forgotten. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

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