Matthew Sweet (from the album Catspaw available on Omnivore Recordings) (by Joe Burcaw)
It has been close to three years since we’ve heard new material from Matthew Sweet and this time around the tables have turned in the lead guitar department. Sweet’s criterion going into this project was to execute every lead part himself. Matthew has never played lead on any of his previous releases just rhythm guitar, bass, and piano. As a fan, I was overjoyed by this musical shift and quite surprised by the melodic output blazing through his fingertips. Let me warn the listeners now, this is not a Steve Vai tribute with blistering solos incorporating running Mixolydian and Phrygian modes throughout. Instead, we have been gifted noise infused Power Pop with guitar hooks that were created to remain memorable and timeless.
Matthew Sweet, at this point in the game, has had a long history collaborating with the likes of Michael Stipe, Susanna Hoffs, and a brief stint with his super group “The Thorns” featuring fellow Athens Georgia alum Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge. Now, it’s time to bring things home again and get back into the shed. All of the instruments (aside from the drums which feature longtime drummer Ric Menck) were performed by Sweet, the way it should be. The lead off track “Blown Away” brings me back to 1970 when Badfinger and The Beatles (who were record label mates) ruled the airwaves with their guitar driven Pop anthems. I believe it’s safe to say here that Mr. Sweet has been influenced by The Beatles vocally, and by Badfinger musically. What struck my attention, aside from the lead guitar riffs weaving in and out of the verses and choruses, was the abstract lyrical line ‘and I found a key to turn like a worm, like a worm’. What that means exactly I haven’t the slightest idea but I love when songwriters throw in the odd simile to counter the underlying message within the body of the lyrics.
My favorite stand-out track is “Challenge the Gods”, the melodic 8-bar guitar intro is what we need to hear more of in Pop Rock music. ‘Do what you wanna do, go where you wanna go, challenge the Gods to act’ has been lodged inside of my head for the past few days, a chorus that keeps on persisting. This song brought me back to Sweet’s time collaborating with Boston new wavers Til’ Tuesday, on their third and final album’s title track, “Everything’s Different Know”, co-written with MTV unplugged host Jules Shear. I bring this up because Sweet’s phrasing is very similar to what Til’ Tuesday lead guitarist Robert Holmes would create as a soloist, a nice contrast of melody, space, and hook all wrapped up in one musical burrito. The vocal lines display more of that Beatles signature layering but leaning more toward King’s X co-vocalist Ty Tabor’s vocal tonality and expression. Trust me, this song will not disappoint! The featured first single, “At A Loss”, pays homage to Neil Young’s unique soloing style of bending notes while simultaneously creating a mood with noisy guitar raucous. I admire this uniqueness and was immediately brought back to 1989’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” when taking a listen. It is a mighty fine choice for a lead-off single that encapsulates all of the Power Pop essentials of pure genius in just 3:37 minutes of music. Keep up the great work Matthew, you’re on the way to achieving another smash hit even bigger than “Girlfriend” on this one....... (by Joe Burcaw)
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