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The astute power-pop singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet first emerged in the 1980's, coming from the same Athens, Georgia music scene that spawned R.E.M. He briefly played in an Athens band called Oh-OK with Michael Stipe's sister Lynda. His two '80's albums were overlooked (and are currently out of print), but his 1991 album Girlfriend earned him a considerable following and prominent airplay on radio and MTV. When '90's alternative rock faded, so did Sweet's visibility. But Sweet has kept busy, having been a member of the Thorns (a singer-songwriter supergroup with Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge) and Ming Tea (the backing band for Austin Powers, that is), and having cut three albums of cover songs in collaboration with Susanna Hoffs (Under the Covers Vol. 1 through 3). Sweet has remained quite popular in Japan, and in 2003, he thanked his Japanese fans with a CD that was originally only released in that country.

After the demise of Oh-OK and before the start of Sweet’s solo career, Sweet formed a short-lived duo with former Oh-OK drummer David Pierce called the Buzz of Delight. True to their name, the duo served up six songs of deliriously euphoric pop on the 1984 Soundcastles EP. Sweet’s vocals on this record sound almost too innocent to belong to a grown man. He and Pierce use instruments too numerous to mention (including melodica, bells, and glass jars) to create a dense wall of joyful noise. Soundcastles is a short, pleasing visit to la-la land.

Track Listing:

1. Southern
2. Miracle
3. In Summer
4. Happy Town
5. Christmas
6. And…

Sweet's 1986 album Inside was an impressive solo debut. His songs about relationships rang true, especially on "We Lose Another Day", "Blue Fools", and "Save Time For Me" (the latter of which was co-written by Sweet and Jules Shear). The album's only problem is that it is dated by its '80's synth-pop sound. (A total of ten -- count 'em,
ten -- producers worked on the album, including Scott Litt, Don Dixon, Stephen Hague, and Sweet himself). For this reason, the album is much-maligned, even though much of the material is first-rate. Even on a synth-pop level, Inside is very good, with some songs ("Catch Your Breath", "Love I Trusted") that ought to be on any retro-'80's radio station's playlist.

Track Listing:

1. Quiet Her
2. Blue Fools
3. We Lose Another Day
4. Catch Your Breath
5. Half Asleep
6. This Above All
7. Save Time For Me
8. By Herself
9. Brotherhood
10. Love I Trusted
11. Watch You Walking

Earth, Sweet's sophomore album, is also underrated, though it was a step down from Inside. His songs about love were still evocative; even a song simply titled "Love" sounds profound in Sweet's hands. He also received good support from co-producer Fred Maher and guitarists Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine. Most of the songs are warm mid-tempo pop; the only problem is that the album rarely strays from that format. "Underground" and "The Alcohol Talking" are the only songs that deviate from the rest. Although it's not Sweet's best work, Earth is (contrary to popular belief) not half bad.

Track Listing:

1. Easy
2. When I Feel Again
3. Wind And The Sun
4. Children Of Time (Forever)
5. Love
6. Vertigo
7. Underground
8. The Alcohol Talking
9. Vixen
10. How Cool
11. Having A Bad Dream

Not to be confused with Girlfriend the full-length album, the four-track Girlfriend: the superdeformed CD (or superdeformed EP, if you happened to purchase it on 7-inch red vinyl) contains the title song and three demos as B-sides. One of those demos is the original version of the title song called "Good Friend", which sounds a bit different than the version that was later released on To Understand. The other two tracks are worthwhile: "Superdeformed" is a full-bodied alt-rock gem; the more bare-bones "Teenage Female" takes the point of view of a young girl with a crush on a pop idol. Note: the Japanese version of the full-length Girlfriend CD contains these three songs as bonus tracks, as does the 2-CD U.S. reissue of Girlfriend from 2006. Another note on that appears in the next review.

Track Listing:

1. Girlfriend
2. Superdeformed (demo)
3. Teenage Female (demo)
4. Good Friend (demo)

+ =
Sweet's Girlfriend cover art + Neil Young's Zuma cover art = Sweet's Goodfriend cover art

The 13-track CD Goodfriend: Another Take On 'Girlfriend' was a promotional item partly distributed through Sweet's fan club. It contains four songs recorded acoustically in Sweet's house, two that were recorded for the BBC, six live recordings from San Diego State, and one other live recording ("I've Been Waiting") for a Cleveland radio station. Most of these are performances of songs from the Girlfriend album (including two versions of the title track, track 11 being the better one), but two of the high points are cover songs: an acoustic home recording of John Lennon's "Isolation", and a live performance with the Indigo Girls of Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer". Speaking of which, the cover art parodies that of both Sweet's Girlfriend and Neil Young's Zuma, featuring a black-ink drawing of Tuesday Weld and Zuma-like credits and liner notes. Goodfriend is good stuff, and it makes a strong case for Sweet as a live performer, as well as for his ability to perform in intimate settings. (Notes: In June 2006, a 2-CD special edition of the Girlfriend album was issued, which featured Goodfriend as its bonus disc. In April 2016, Goodfriend was issued on vinyl for the first time by Legacy Recordings (cat. no. 88875194311), as a Record Store Day special release, limited to 4,000 copies.).

Track Listing:

1. Divine Intervention *
2. Girlfriend **
3. Day For Night ***
4. Thought I Knew You ***
5. Looking At The Sun *
6. Does She Talk ***
7. You Don't Love Me ***
8. Someone To Pull The Trigger **
9. I've Been Waiting ****
10. Winona *
11. Girlfriend ***
12. Cortez The Killer ***
13. Isolation *

* - recorded acoustically at home 9/8/92
** - recorded in London for BBC1 7/22/92
*** - recorded live at San Diego State 8/28/92
**** - recorded live in Cleveland for WMMS 3/26/92

Altered Beast, the follow-up to Girlfriend, was co-produced by Sweet and Richard Dashut, the man who produced Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Instead of being a step in a more commercial direction, Altered Beast was an unexpected adventure in risk-taking. "Dinosaur Act" starts the album off with staccato guitar noise; the next two tracks wrap Sweet's brand of power pop in a sonic blanket. Altered Beast is Sweet's darkest work ever. "Someone To Pull The Trigger" and "Falling" make effective use of their metaphors; "Knowing People" and "The Ugly Truth" show a misanthropic streak. "Ugly Truth Rock" is a second version of the latter song that substitutes a harsh guitar sound for the other version's fiddle; it's hardly a conventional song in either form. It may take multiple listenings to be fully appreciated, but Altered Beast is a brilliant, ambitious creation.

The seven track EP Son Of Altered Beast is a useful accessory. It starts with a remix of "Devil With The Green Eyes" that is less turgid and more immediate than the original. The next five tracks were recorded live. The standout among those is "Someone To Pull The Trigger", which was recorded at a different date than the other four; it's a performance that would do Neil Young & Crazy Horse proud. A live cover of Young's "Don't Cry No Tears" is another track that makes the EP worthwhile. The final track "Ultrasuede" is a studio outtake from the album that is satisfying, and probably would have been better in context.

Track Listings:


1. Dinosaur Act
2. Devil With The Green Eyes
3. The Ugly Truth
4. Time Capsule
5. Someone To Pull The Trigger
6. Knowing People
7. Life Without You
8. Intro
9. Ugly Truth Rock
10. Do It Again
11. In Too Deep
12. Reaching Out
13. Falling
14. What Do You Know?
15. Evergreen


1. Devil With The Green Eyes (remix)
2. Superdeformed (live)
3. Someone To Pull The Trigger (live)
4. Knowing People (live)
5. I Wanted To Tell You (live)
6. Don't Cry No Tears (live)
7. Ultrasuede (studio outtake)

The 1997 album Blue Sky On Mars was one of Sweet's lesser efforts. Its shortcomings had less to do with songwriting than with instrumentation. Some of the material ("Behind The Smile", "Until You Break", "Missing Time") is first-rate. However, most of the musicians that played on Sweet's earlier-'90's albums were absent from this one. Nearly all of the instruments except the drums were played by Sweet and co-producer Brendan O'Brien. Their playing is better than average, but not particularly distinguished. Most of the results sound like fairly typical '90's "alternative" rock, which had not only gone mainstream, but was on its way out of fashion at that point in time. One standout track: "Into Your Drug" reaches out and grabs you with its trippy sound.

Track Listing:

1. Come To California
2. Back To You
3. Where You Get Love
4. Hollow
5. Behind The Smile
6. Until You Break
7. Over It
8. Heaven And Earth
9. All Over My Head
10. Into Your Drug
11. Make Believe
12. Missing Time

The Hourglass Sea is an unessential promo item that surfaced in 1997. Out of its nine tracks, only two are non-album rarities: an acoustic version of "Come To California" and the demo "Vicious Circle". Both are half-decent tracks that also turned up on other in-store promo CDs. None of the other seven tracks are alternate versions (unless you count "Devil With The Green Eyes"; that version is the remix from the Son of Altered Beast EP, not the original from the full-length Altered Beast -- which is fine by me). In essence, The Hourglass Sea merely serves as a mini-compilation of Sweet's studio albums between 1991 and 1997. Not a bad thing to own, but clearly nothing to hunt high and low for.

Track Listing:

1. Girlfriend
2. Evangeline
3. Come To California (acoustic)
4. Devil With The Green Eyes
5. The Ugly Truth
6. Vicious Circle (demo)
7. Sick Of Myself
8. Smog Moon
9. Over It

In Reverse, with its upside-down cover art and back-to-front CD booklet, is a surprisingly old-fashioned effort. Despite song titles such as "Millennium Blues" and "Future Shock", Sweet dropped all pretenses of modern-rock hipness here. Instead, In Reverse is reminiscent of classic pop from the '70's and '60's. Sure, there may be some guitar distortion and nose-thumbing attitude here and there, but that's nothing that Sweet's hero Neil Young hadn't been doing for decades. Even the production (credited to Sweet and three others) is relatively old-fangled and carefully avoids excess. Songs such as "Hide" and "Worse To Live" recall mellow '70's pop in the good sense. Some others ("If Time Permits", "I Should Never Have Let You Know") turn the clock back further, to the glory days of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. It all culminates in the closing track "Thunderstorm", a nine-minute, multi-part masterwork that would do Sweet's musical forebears proud.

Track Listing:

1. Millennium Blues
2. If Time Permits
3. Beware My Love
4. Faith In You
5. Hide
6. Future Shock
7. Split Personality
8. I Should Never Have Let You Know
9. Trade Places
10. What Matters
11. Write Your Own Song
12. Worse To Live
13. Untitled
14. Thunderstorm

The 2002 release To Understand - The Early Recordings of Matthew Sweet is a well-rounded collection of 22 tracks which Sweet recorded in the '80's, including four songs from Inside, six from Earth, five cogent demos (four of which were b-sides from the 12-inch singles "Vertigo" and "When I Feel Again"), and seven songs from three different Sweet collaborations recorded during the years between 1983 and 1987.
To Understand is particularly worth obtaining for its inclusion of five tracks by the Buzz of Delight, including three which were previously unreleased. "Tainted Obligation", a 1983 country duet by Sweet and Michael Stipe, is another deservedly unearthed curio.

Track Listing:

1. Southern -- The Buzz of Delight
2. Christmas -- The Buzz of Delight
3. Briar Rose -- The Buzz of Delight (previously unreleased)
4. The Story of Love -- The Buzz of Delight (previously unreleased)
5. Ninety-Six Sheets -- The Buzz of Delight (previously unreleased)
6. Quiet Her
7. Blue Fools
8. We Lose Another Day
9. Save Time For Me
10. Something Becomes Nothing -- The Golden Palominos
11. Easy
12. When I Feel Again (single remix)
13. Wind And The Sun
14. Love
15. Vertigo
16. Having A Bad Dream
17. To Understand (12" b-side/demo)
18. You Gotta Love Me (12" b-side/demo)
19. Silent City (12" b-side/demo)
20. Divine Intervention (12" b-side/demo)
21. Good Friend (demo)
22. Tainted Obligation -- Community Trolls (demo, previously unreleased)

In 2003, Sweet recorded an album that was originally released only in Japan, as a special gift to his fans in that country. It was made available in the U.S. one year later, in October of 2004. Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu was recorded in Sweet's house, and consisted of 12 songs that he wrote over the course of one week. Sweet also produced, engineered, and mixed the album. The backing band consisted of guitarists Richard Lloyd and Greg Leisz, and drummer Ric Menck (from Velvet Crush), all of whom had played on the Girlfriend album a decade earlier. The title, which Sweet says was intended to be confusing, translates into "I Love You * Life".

Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu proves beyond doubt that Sweet's love for his Japanese fans is genuine. As the description of its making suggests, it's a very spontaneous recording. This provides a strong contrast to most of Sweet's other post-Girlfriend albums, on which he sometimes seemed to be trying too hard. But this album surely doesn't sound like a collection of homemade demos. Most of the album is quite accessible despite a certain excess of sonic noise, which is noticeable but not unpleasant. "Spiral" and the beautiful "Morning Song" sound about as fully realized as can be. The songs are remarkably consistent in quality, with many great pop hooks. Lyrically, "Love Is Gone" and "Through Your Eyes" are as good as any songs Sweet has ever written. The lyrics were not specifically tailored to Japanese interests, although "The Ocean In-Between" is easy to interpret as a metaphor for Sweet's relationship with that country. Instead, Sweet wrote the type of universal songs about relationships that he has always done well, and he was in top form despite the short creative time frame. Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu is one of Sweet's essential works.

Track Listing:

1. Dead Smile
2. Morning Song
3. The Ocean In-Between
4. I Love You
5. I Don't Want To Know
6. Warning
7. Spiral
8. Love Is Gone
9. Hear This
10. Wait
11. Tonight We Ride
12. Through Your Eyes

The Thorns were a one-off supergroup which Sweet formed with two other singer-songwriters who earned momentary recognition in the ‘90’s: Shawn Mullins (“Lullaby”) and Pete Droge (“If You Don’t Love Me I’ll Kill Myself”).The Thorns released one self-titled country-rock album in 2003. This trio sang three-part harmonies much like Crosby, Stills & Nash, although these three musicians normally have more in common with Neil Young. Producer Brendan O’Brien assisted with the instrumentation, as did the dependable Jim Keltner, who has become something of a journeyman drummer for supergroups.

The Thorns is a fine country-rock album that deserved to find a wide audience, but it unfortunately died a commercial death. The three alternative rockers harmonize beautifully on this set, and are well supported by O’Brien’s tasteful production. Although the three members share songwriting credit on most of the tracks, it’s not hard to guess who contributed the most to certain songs: “I Can’t Remember” and “Among The Living” have lyrics that sound like classic Sweet; “No Blue Sky” and “Such A Shame” both have Mullins’ musical thumbprint; and “Runaway Feeling” and “Long, Sweet Summer Night” both have Droge’s personality. Two standout tracks, “Think It Over” and “Dragonfly”, are reminiscent of CS&N at their best. The trio’s cover of the Jayhawks song “Blue” is tighter than the original, though it is sung with a bit less feeling. The title track “Thorns” is given an unexpected hard-rock edge by Keltner’s drumming. The Thorns is a very satisfying album, seemingly free of the type of ego clashes that often ruin supergroup efforts.

The limited edition 2-CD version of The Thorns (Aware/Columbia C2K 90723) features a bonus disc titled “Sunset Session”. This disc contains acoustic versions of the same 13 songs, recorded during a single afternoon in July 2003 at Sunset Sound studio in L.A., at the end of the trio’s tour. Fortunately, these recordings do not sound like one-take demos-in-reverse. Although a song like “I Can’t Remember” inevitably sounds a bit naked without its production layers, most of the other songs sound like they were perfected on the road. The three-part vocal harmonies are on vivid display, and individual voices sound less dominant on many tracks, especially “No Blue Sky” and the standout “Such A Shame”. “Think It Over” and “Dragonfly” sound even more like vintage CS&N than their proper recordings do. “Thorns” and “I Set The World On Fire” have less edge but no less feeling, and this version of “Blue” gives the Jayhawks’ original a run for its money. If the proper Thorns disc makes you wish the trio had recorded again, then the “Sunset Session” disc is likely to intensify that effect.

Track Listing:

1. Runaway Feeling
2. I Can’t Remember
3. Blue
4. Think It Over
5. Thorns
6. No Blue Sky
7. Now I Know
8. Dragonfly
9. Long, Sweet Summer Night
10. I Told You
11. Such A Shame
12. I Set The World On Fire
13. Among The Living

“Sunset Session” (bonus disc included with Aware/Columbia C2K 90723) contains acoustic versions of all 13 tracks in the same order.

Recorded in 2002 but released in 2004, Living Things seems almost lifeless compared to Sweet's two 2003 releases. In some ways, it picks up where In Reverse left off. Sweet was apparently attempting an album of slightly sunbaked psychedelic pop on the order of Smile-era Beach Boys, enlisting the one and only Van Dyke Parks to play various keyboard instruments. This idea looks interesting on paper, but in execution it doesn't gel the way it should. Parks' quirky instrumentation tends to upstage Sweet more often than it complements him. (The album also had the misfortune of being released during the same month as Brian Wilson's "finished" Smile solo album, which made Living Things seem even more irrelevant). "Sunlight" and "I Saw Red" are the tracks which most effectively mesh Sweet's and Parks' styles, while "You're Not Sorry" and "Tomorrow" are the songs that make the strongest emotional connections. Living Things makes more sense with repeat listenings, but it's not the psych-pop pearl that it could have been.

Note: The Japanese issue of Living Things (Cutting Edge CTCM-65079) contains two demos as bonus tracks: "Walk On The Edge" and "Season Is Over".

Track Listing:

1. The Big Cats of Shambala
2. You're Not Sorry
3. Dandelion
4. Push The Feelings
5. In My Tree
6. Cats Vs. Dogs
7. I Saw Red
8. In My Time
9. Sunlight
10. Season Is Over
11. Tomorrow

Sweet showed less activity during the 2010's, but seemed to be making up for lost time towards the end of that decade. After releasing two encouragingly good studio albums in 2017 and 2018, Sweet issued yet another album for Record Store Day Black Friday in 2018. The LP Wicked System Of Things was limited to 1,500 copies, and was pressed in 180g translucent blue marbled vinyl. The album was written and recorded quickly, much like Kimi Ga Suki; it has a similar feeling of spontaneity, but with more professional recording and mixing. Sweet was backed only by guitarist Jason Victor (from Dream Syndicate) and drummer Ric Menck. Sweet said the album was intended as a tribute to Midwestern power pop bands like Cheap Trick, the Raspberries, and Shoes. It is certainly possible to draw comparisons to those bands: "Electric Guitar" and "Flashback" are quite reminiscent of Cheap Trick; "Counting The Days" and "Eternity Now" have a discernible neo-Raspberries flavor; and "Alone With Everybody" and "Split Mind" are graced with Shoes-like guitar jangle. But in all of those cases, the songs sound even more like the work of...Matthew Sweet. Other sources of inspiration are apparent as well, as there are occasional echoes of Big Star and even Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Baby Talk"). But Wicked System Of Things entirely belongs to Sweet, as he does his own consistent, no-nonsense power pop thing on this record. Wicked System Of Things is definitely an album that Sweet's fans will want to track down; here's hoping the album will get a wider release in the future.

Besides the beautiful colored vinyl, another visual asset of this LP is the gatefold cover art, which makes use of three paintings from the '50's and '60's by three different artists, and makes them seem thematically related.

Track Listing:

1. Alone With Everybody
2. Baby Talk
3. Electric Guitar
4. Good Girls Are Gone
5. Counting The Days
6. Eternity Now
7. The Biggest Lies
8. Flashback
9. It's A Charade
10. Backwards Upside Down
11. Split Mind

For the following Record Store Day in April 2019, a live album titled The Blue Sky On Mars Tour was issued. Pressed in orange translucent vinyl and limited to 1,200 copies, the LP chronicles one June 1997 date from that tour, recorded live at Pleasure Island in Walt Disney World. It was originally recorded for radio broadcast on the Big Bang Concert Series. For this concert, Sweet was backed by Velvet Crush founders Paul Chastain (guitar, keyboards) and Ric Menck (drums), as well as guitarist Ivan Julian (ex-Voidoids), and bassist Tony Marsico (ex-Cruzados). Despite the hip cult-artist credentials of all involved, Sweet and company came across more like classic-rock entertainers suitable for the Disney World venue and the radio show. (Sweet even informed the audience that the song "Walk Out" has a Melrose Place connection, and that Kathie Lee Gifford sang "Back To You" with them on her TV show). That's not to say that these boys were too well-behaved on that day, because there is a good deal of rock and roll energy on display here, though it's a more conventional type than you might expect. Two of the selections from the Girlfriend album -- namely "Girlfriend" and "Divine Intervention" -- have faster tempos and denser hard-rock instrumentation than their studio versions. Two other selections from that album are affected differently in this setting: "I've Been Waiting" is well-played, but loses most of its pop sweetness, while "Winona" manages to maintain much of its pop appeal without its country styling. The five songs from the then-new Blue Sky On Mars album (including "Hollow", misspelled as "Hallow") get a more down-to-earth treatment than their studio versions, and are generally preferable to them. "Into Your Drug" rocks harder without losing all of its spacey elements. The LP closes with an excellent performance of the grunge-era song "Sick Of Myself", which sounds exactly the way it ought to.

Track Listing:

1. Come To California
2. Divine Intervention
3. I've Been Waiting
4. Into Your Drug
5. Winona
6. Band Intro
7. Walk Out
8. Back To You
9. Girlfriend
10. Where You Get Love
11. Hallow
12. Sick Of Myself