Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Music Review: Matthew Sweet "Sunshine Lies"

Much has been written about Matthew Sweet. After two critically acclaimed, but poorly selling albums he broke big in 1990 with the album "Girlfriend." The alternative pop hit spawned two top-25 singles on the Modern Rock Chart and two anime filled music videos. The following albums, "Altered Beast" and "100% Fun," widely divided the critics. Some felt the music was uneven, others felt it was a logical extension of what he started with Girlfriend. The following years saw a few more releases that served to build his fan base. He collaborated with Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge to form the super group the Thorns. He cameoed in the Austin Powers movies as part of the band Ming Tea with Mike Meyers and Susanna Hoffs. In 2006 he released an album of classic rock covers with Susanna Hoffs entitled "Under the Covers Vol. 1."

Now he is poised to release his first new solo album since 2004 and his first for the Shout! Factory label. "Sunshine Lies" is due out on August 26th, 2008. If you have followed Mr. Sweet's career to this point you will find this album to be a culmination of his talent. If this is a first time experience for you, get ready for a treat.

This album is his most consistent release since "Girlfriend." The songs, even the ballads, are catchy and the lyrics are witty. The album simultaneously starts a new chapter in his career while paying homage to his past career. "Time Machine" kicks the album off with a pop fullness while the lyrics paint a wistful picture. "Room to Rock" speeds out of the gate in a manner similar to "Dinosaur Act" from "Altered Beast." The third track, "Byrdgirl," sounds straight off of "Under the Covers Vol. 1" with a late 60's/early 70's rock feel. He then punches out on the fourth track, "Flying," with a classic rock feel and gravely vocals. The song has a real Neil Young vibe and it stayed in my head long after the album had ended. Track five is the deceptively smooth "Feel Fear." Track six, "Let's Love," is the other real standout track on the album. Again he invokes a similar style to Neil Young on the verses, but the chorus leans more towards the Who with its rocking rhythm and lead guitar work. The title track "Sunshine Lies" is up next. Again Sweet, along with his wife and Susanna Hoffs, sings a laid-back, psychedelic track that could have been pulled straight out of the 60's. Track seven is another slow ballad entitled "Pleasure is Mine." If I had to pick a weak track on the album, it would be this one. It isn't necesarily a bad track, but on a disc of memorable tracks this one doesn't stick out. Track eight, "Daisychain," again showcases Sweet's homage to the music that influenced him. It has a 60's rock feel that would not feel out of place on a Beach Boy's album. Track nine brings back the rock with "Sunrise Eyes." This track points back to his success in the 90's, but has an edge of experience that could only come with time. Track ten is the ballad "Around You Now." I couldn't help but hear echoes of "Nothing Lasts" from "Girlfriend" when I listened this track. They both share themes of inevitable change. Track eleven, "Burn Through Love," is the second weakest track on the album. Again the track isn't bad, it just comes off as mediocre alterna-pop compared to other tracks. The album ends with "Back of My Mind." The track starts off as a slow ballad that builds into a powerful chorus only to drop off into a slow ballad again. It is the perfect cap for an album that deftly rode the line between 90's alternative, 60's psychedelic, and flat out rock and roll.

All in all this is the best Matthew Sweet in some time and well worth the wait. Next week I'll be reviewing a couple of new releases from Ramseur Records.