Graham Reid | | 3 min read
In the past few years when the American singer, songwriter and stunning guitarist Matthew Sweet received a bit of publicity, his longtime fans -- oddly enough -- were disappointed.
Not that Sweet's fans – unlike indie.cult people and DJs with rare grooves – want to keep the good news to ourselves.
But Sweet was getting attention for albums with former Bangle Susannah Hoffs.
They were decent enough (two volumes of Under the Covers), but . . . covers albums of songs from the Sixties and Seventies?
Okay, Sweet is one of the few you'd trust with the Beatles, Bob Dylan and especially rocked-out Neil Young . . . but really?
Here was a guy who delivered a thrilling trifecta of smart power pop-cum-indie rock in the early 90s with his albums Girlfriend (91), Altered Beast (93) and 100% Fun (95) yet never got his due.
Think about it: a nice looking young man called Matthew Sweet?
Think he might deliver acerbic, emotionally cutting and exciting pop-rock which dealt with divorce, anger and had songs with titles like Divine Intervention, I Thought I Knew You, Nothing Lasts (on Girlfriend), The Ugly Truth, Someone to Pull the Trigger, Life Without You (Altered Beast) and Sick of Myself (100% Fun).
Although his name might suggest a pop star of the David Cassidy/Justin Bieber kind, Sweet was closer to a bristling young Elvis Costello, fiery Neil Young or Big Star after having sucked lemons.
Sweet -- in short -- rocks, rages, gets depressed and introspective . . . and delivered great albums.
Born in Nebraska but coming of age in Athens (home of REM etc), he was on and off labels because his early albums were not especially successful.
But hooking up with some sympathetic and credible outsiders (among them guitarist Richard Lloyd formerly of Television, Lou Reed's guitarist pal Robert Quine and pedal steel player Greg Leisz) he delivered his post-divorce album Girlfriend (and Essential Elsewhere album, see here).
The title track gave him a decent sized Stateside hit, but although the album bristled with staggeringly good pop-rock (think Revolver-era Beatles) it was given a twist of venom and pain as doubted God (“does He love us?”), women, love and the whole damn thing.
Optimistic songs like the title track and the bright Byrds-jangle I've Been Waiting were undercut by lyrics about loneliness, anger and self-pity (You Don't Love Me).
Girlfriend was persuasive evidence of a major talent, although the rather heavier follow-up Altered Beast left a few bewildered with its spiraling psychedelics woven between ballads and hypnotic if dark pop-rock (The Ugly Truth) and that gorgeously melodic downer Someone to Pull the Trigger (“I'm loaded, ready . . .”)
By the time 100% Fun rolled around the world was divided between Sweet fans and poor saps who'd never heard of him. His line of deceptively tuneful pop-rock coupled with adult lyrics and sometimes white-knuckle guitar either grabbed you by the collar, or went right past you because he didn't get radio play or many mainstream reviews.
When I was at the Herald in the early Nineties and people heard I had a Matthew Sweet phoner scheduled, fans from advertising, business, sport and other departments beat a path to my desk.
That's the kind of loyalty Sweet inspired in people . . . by those who'd heard him.
Longtime fans also have his Goodfriend and Son of Altered Beast albums of acoustic demos, live versions and covers (check his thrilling treatment of Neil Young's Cortez the Killer on Goodfriend if you can find it).
After those three albums the gloss went off Sweet's albums a bit – amusingly Wikipedia has the same sentence for most of them, “The album was met with little commercial success, but with favorable reviews” – and he stumbled into the past decade as a cult figure . . . until those covers albums.
Matthew Sweet – now as big as truck – is long overdue for discovery. Fans don't need to rediscover him. For them, these albums are always close to hand.
Matthew Sweet was interviewed in 1993 see here.