How Sweet It Is

Sunshine Lies (Shout! Factory)
Matthew Sweet

By Kevin Gibson

I may have a mild man-crush on Matthew Sweet. Don't be alarmed, it's nothing serious - it's just that I tend to be impressed with melodic tunesmithing, and Sweet is one of my favorites. His 1990s output, for the most part, was fantastic, and he has made a relative return to form with his latest release, Sunshine Lies. So, as you can imagine, my heart is fluttering.

Sweet's recent releases included some experiments and collaborations that were good, but they weren't necessarily him - or at least not the Matthew Sweet I know. He did an album of 1960s covers with Susanna Hoffs that was good fun but didn't satisfy my Sweet tooth; 2004's Living Things was interesting, but didn't stick with me, and his work in The Thorns was outstanding but is unlike his solo efforts. The only Sweet album released in the 21st century that actually sounded like vintage Matthew Sweet was the overlooked Kimi Ga Suki - and it was probably overlooked primarily because initially it was released only in Japan.

But Lies is a return to Sweet's original focus - melodic pop songs with lots of guitar and vocals layered in. The disc starts off a tad slowly, but when track three, "Byrdgirl," comes through the speakers, all doubt is removed that Sweet's jangly pop vision has been reincarnated. It's a lushly produced pop gem with hints of psychedelia sprinkled in (which happens a lot on this album).

Sweet populates the album with such gems intermingled with slightly less successful rockers. His backing band, which includes usual suspects Rick Menck on drums and Greg Liesz on guitar and other instruments, is spot-on as always, and Richard Lloyd (formerly of Television) makes a welcome return on guitar as well.

In general, Sweet seems to pull off the breezy melodic stuff a bit better these days than he does the more rocking cuts; whereas on the unforgettable Girlfriend and Altered Beast albums he seemed at his best when the songs got loud, Lies seems a bit more like 100% Fun, which was more on the pop side of Sweet's musical coin.

Another noticeable difference is that his new batch of songs isn't as brutally emotional and raw as on many of his previous releases. The subject matter is a tad more vague thematically and not quite as biting.

Nevertheless, it's hard to resist the recordings and the melodies. Songs like "Daisychain" and the title track will stick in your head for days, and the luscious "Around You Now" is filled with sparkling vocals and delicious 12-string guitars. Just gorgeous.

And while songs like "Burn Through Love" - which is more or less about serial monogamy - might fall flat, there are some nice moments tucked inside tunes such as "Let's Love," which at first sounds like yet another generic love song but actually speaks to the growing violence in the world and carries a plea to stop making promises and start doing something about it.

I wouldn't say this album is in the upper echelon of Sweet's catalog, but it's easily superior to Blue Sky on Mars and Living Things. Sweet fans can rejoice that he's headed in the right direction again, and with any luck maybe he will attract a new set of fans by steering them away from some of the current radio schlock that people call music.

Just don't tell anyone about my man-crush. Please?

Find out more at www.matthewsweet.com.