Matthew Sweet: Pleasure Is Mine

By: Dennis Cook

Matthew Sweet by Henry Diltz
Turn on the radio today and it's clear The Beatles didn't win. There's nearly no evidence of the raw talent, craftsmanship or subtle innovation the Fab Four brought to bear. Still, there are those that see the intrinsic value in their aesthetic and have modeled their own efforts after it. Matthew Sweet is one such acolyte, a true purveyor of quality pop-rock with a McCartney-like gift for melody, terrific bridges and loud-soft dynamics, where the acoustic bits carry as much weight as the reverb heavy guitar workouts.

One quickly picks up an infectious '60s vibe on Sweet's tenth album, Sunshine Lies (released August 26 by Shout! Factory), which bursts forth with a spirit of enjoyment and possibility in well assembled little packages full of killer vocals and playful experimentation.

"Everything is getting so demolished in the music industry. It's kind of a good, free-for-all time, where all kinds of great stuff can happen," says Sweet, who handled production duties at his home studio. "It's not cool but I always fantasized about something like Pro-Tools [laughs]. Technology came along and has made it possible for a lot of different kinds of records to be made. It's a whole different world now. I really got into writing songs and wanting to be an artist through four-track cassette decks. It was right when I was a teenager that you could get an affordable Fostex thing. You put a cassette in and that was your multitrack. You could hear what it was like to play three things and mix them down, or four things if you had something else to mix to. That was huge for me."

"When I first started to shape this album it was more totally rock. And then it felt like it was just too much, so over time I added some prettier things. It ended up more balanced in the end, though there's a few rockers left off I hope will surface. One song called 'Badass' is really free form and crazy and kind of funny," says Sweet, a man known for some superb electric guitar abandon in concert. "I'm moody and there's been times when I've been less open and friendly [laughs]. That goes in cycles, and a lot of artists are just, uh, challenged people. I get weird when I don't do anything creative for a while. Once I do something I feel so much better. After I did The Thorns project [his successful 2002-2003 collaboration with Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge], which we put a lot of work and time into - where we had to sing in harmony all the time and it was restrained, in that way, though really cool when it worked – by the time we were done I really wanted to rock out."

Matthew Sweet by Henry Diltz
Sunshine Lies tracks like "Room To Rock" and "Sunrise Eyes" test amp strength and reveal his deep affection for the MC5 and early Lou Reed in wonderfully messy string mangling of the first order paired with biting vocals and thoroughly non-timid drums. These moments are balanced by the high country trip twang of "Daisychain" and Dukes of Stratosphear quality liquid light ditties like "Time Machine" or the Radiohead-esque "Feel Fear." This may be Sweet's most wholly together offering since his 1991 chart heyday with Girlfriend, and in some ways it betters that '90s touchstone with its greater lyrical and musical sensitivity. In raw power and artful delicacy, Sweet has lost nothing in the intervening years, and as a new generation is discovering Girlfriend's title track via Guitar Hero II, the time may be ripe for folks to catch up on this under-sung musician.

"It's a natural curve. If you're lucky, you have some sort of commercial success and all that, then afterwards you're just an artist and it's up to you," says Sweet. "In some sense, given how the recording industry has turned out, it's worked out better for someone like me because I have a history. It's so hard to get a foothold now. At least I kinda have that thing. Now, I'm doing things the way I wish I'd always done them. Success was hard for me. It wasn't that I changed anything because of it but it didn't feel good inside. For me, this is a good time in my life. I still feel the same things but it's a little more balanced. The time I made Girlfriend is probably closest to now, in that I have nothing to lose and a label wasn't involved very much. And it's easier now because we have better technology and I've learned a little more. This is probably happening for a lot of artists fortunate enough to get their heads around gear and studios."

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