Thursday, August 9, 2007
Artist: Matthew Sweet
Release Date: October 1991
Label: Zoo Entertainment
Producers: Fred Maher & Matthew Sweet
"I thought I knew you, but I wasn’t even close
I had my heart set on little more than a ghost
And I thought I’d show you there was no way we could lose
I thought I’d force you to realize and choose"
- from "Thought I Knew You"
Matthew Sweet’s third album, Girlfriend is honest. While it might mean a lot of things to a lot of people, Sweet makes it very clear what this album is about: guitars and broken hearts. And really, what else is Rock & Roll about? Fuckin’ guitars get the girls, but when you love the guitar more than the girls, the girls leave. Hearts get broken. And you pick up the guitar to write songs about it. The guitar makes you feel better, so you can go get a new girl, and start the whole thing over again. It’s an old formula, but if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. Sweet knows this, so he makes the guitars yell and cry for all the broken hearts out there. You could say the album became a hit because Sweet wisely left his synthesizers in the 80’s, and cranked up the guitars just as Nirvana and Pearl Jam were breaking through. I think it’s more serendipitous than that; I just think that Matthew Sweet stuck to the formula. He got divorced. He cried. He picked up the guitar.
There’s a reason why the hit title track is in the video game Guitar Hero II. For a generation (of which I am a part of) who were sitting around watching C+C Music Factory and “Losing My Religion” for the millionth time on MTV, when the Japanese anime music video for this song came on, the back of your head exploded trying to comprehend the guitar mastery. “Girlfriend” is THE air guitar classic for a time when solos started getting marginalized for fear of being associated with the dying hair metal scene. Matthew Sweet didn’t care – there are so many licks in the song, the intertwining guitar solos bended our young minds. I saw Matthew Sweet live in 2000, and even though six years have gone by, it remains the loudest show I've ever attended. Three Les Paul's plugged into Marshall stacks, warping matter around them with the power of the volume. I didn't regain hearing in my left ear for over 24 hours. This album was ground zero for Matthew Sweet as guitar destroyer; Girlfriend is one of the greatest guitar albums of all time.
That's not to say it's a loud album, or a heavy album. It's actually neither. It's more pretty than anything. But the playing is incredible - six guitarists(!) surfing across 36 strings, riding them like the perfect dawn-kissed wave. These guitarists shape-shift to mold every song. The painful morning of "Thought I Knew You". The sunny jangle of "I've Been Waiting". The Tourette's syndrome guitar of "I Wanted To Tell You". The pedal steel tears of "Winona" and "Your Sweet Voice". The slashes of "Day For Night" and "Does She Talk". The serpentine tyrants of the iconic title track. Sweet and his band, including NYC veterans Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine, use such a varied palette, the album influenced everyone from contemporaries like R.E.M. and Pavement, to Fountains of Wayne, to John Mayer.
All the shredded six-shooters wouldn't mean a thing if Matthew Sweet's songs weren't up to the challenge. Sweet had started his career as part of the Athens, GA scene that birthed R.E.M., playing with Michael Stipe's sister in Oh-OK, and then spent his mid-80's major label time whittling his blend of Beatles, Big Star, and Buffalo Springfield into razor-sharp classic Pop songcraft. But his first two albums didn't cut it. Good thing for his career then that he got that divorce. Like Dylan's Blood On The Tracks or Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Pop music can't beat a broken heart for some creative inspiration and fire with which to serve it. Half the record speaks directly to Sweet's fresh emotional wounds, from "You Don't Love Me" to "Don't Go" to "Nothing Lasts". Couple that with classic Power Pop like "Girlfriend", "Holy War" & "I've Been Waiting", and the resulting masterpiece isn't a surprise. And as much as the songs are steeped in Rock classicism, and even though countless others have worked this fertile musical land to make it new and fresh in the years since, rarely has it been as good as Girlfriend. The album is a cyclical give-and-take; the songs and the strings. The sum is more than the parts, and that's what will keep this album a treasured gem in people's headphones way into the future.
01. "Divine Intervention"
02. "I've Been Waiting"
04. "Looking At The Sun"
07. "Day For Night"
08. "Thought I Knew You"
09. "You Don't Love Me"
10. "I Wanted To Tell You"
11. "Don't Go"
12. "Your Sweet Voice"
13. "Does She Talk?"
14. "Holy War"
15. "Nothing Lasts"
- BONUS: "I've Been Waiting" [video]