Tuesday, February 24, 2004

#63) Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend (released in 1991, I bought a copy on cassette around 5th or 6th grade)

The sound is pop-rock at its finest: shining melodies delivered forcefully yet without a trace of plod, performed with such casual confidence that there's no overt sense of commercial effort or retro-fetishism - despite the accessible, memorable songwriting. Though devoid of acrobatic feats, this is undobutedly a guitar album: Robert Quine gets the Oscar for his soulful noise-inflected solos, but Sweet, Lloyd Cole, Richard Lloyd and Greg Leisz more than earn their nominations. The music on Girlfriend sounds effortless and yet makes painfully evident how rarely this perfection is achieved (Sweet himself hasn't truly pulled it off since).

Being pop-rock, the music, as fine as it is, is used to bolster the emotion provided by the lyrics, which (except for solitary and relatively weak odes to God, lust and war) detail the emotions of someone who probably cares a lot more about a relationship than his partner does. As fits an album originally titled Nothing Lasts, every step towards happiness is immediately contradicted - the excitement of discovery detailed in "I've Been Waiting" and "Girlfriend" is immediately followed by the uncertainty of "Looking At The Sun" and "Winona." The indifference of "Day For Night" is followed by the bitterness of "Thought I Knew You," and "Your Sweet Voice" is rebutted by "Does She Talk?" "I Wanted To Tell You" may sound infinitely more joyful than "You Don't Love Me," but notice that the pride in the latter is replaced in the former by an acknowledgement of personal fault. This blow-by-blow struggle makes the defeat in "Nothing Lasts," the closing ballad, all the more arresting. I'm glad cover model Tuesday Weld demanded he change the name, though. Where Nothing Lasts makes his fatalism blunt, Girlfriend masks the subversion and gives the happier numbers equal credence. Weld is older than Sweet too, so whose to say she doesn't have the smarter outlook.

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