Matthew Sweet: “Sunshine Lies” Is High Fructose Power Pop

The guy’s name is Sweet and with his angelic tenor and gorgeous harmonies it’s hard to describe his music in non-sugary terms.  That hasn’t always been the case.  There are plenty of dark moments on earlier albums like “Altered Beast” and “100% Fun” — songs like “Knowing People” .. “Ugly Truth” .. “Sick Of Myself” .. “We’re The Same” .. are peppered with biting cynicism.  It was songwriting that showed the depth of his art, after the dizzying success of his breakthrough “Girlfriend.”  That sweet spot (sorry) in his career fell between 1990-1995, and it’s been a long time since his music has been discussed in the present tense.  ‘Til now.

“Sunshine Lies” was quietly released in the last week of August.  It’s not exactly a return to form … more like an echo of better material … but it does have its charms.  Sweet is a crack musician — guitar, bass, piano … and musicians who know their stuff flock to him.  He can crank out a guitar riff Kurt Cobain would be proud of, or a ballad the Jonas Brothers could sing in tween heaven.  But in his own gifted hands right now his songs feel more forced than flowing.  It’s a little like watching a magician after you’ve learned how the trick is done.

Part of the problem is the slight shrillness in his voice in the early tracks.  The opener, “Time Machine” seems to want it both ways, stripped down vocally, but highly orchestrated.  Sweet is much better when he keeps the mix straight forward and honest. You’ve got a beautiful voice, Dude — don’t run away from it, celebrate it.

The best moments on “Sunshine Lies” are (here we go again) the sweet ones. “Pleasure Is Mine” .. “Back Of My Mind” and “Byrdgirl.”  You’ll smile at the harmonies and unabashed romance … you also might cringe a bit on a rhyming couplet or two (Mr. Sweet can’t seem to help himself when it comes to “love” and “above”).  Still, it’s new music from a sadder but wiser soul, and for true fans “Sunshine Lies” is worth the purchase (download a couple of tracks if you just want to dip a toe in, starting with “Pleasure Is Mine”).

I must say that as welcome as the new material is, the really big news in Matthew Sweet land is the fact that he’s touring in support of the CD.  Sweet has a well known fear of flying and that makes touring a little difficult.  He’s coming to The Paradise in Boston on October 27th and I will be there cheering him on.  I may not be head over heels for his current tunes, but this guy has such a rich catalog to pull from that any live show holds unlimited potential.  I also hope that when he sees and experiences the passion of his fans, and how much his music means to them, it will inspire him to keep fighting the good fight.  Let’s hope “Sunshine Lies” is the launch pad for even better things to come.

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