In honor of Matthew Sweet’s October stop in Indianapolis and recording of this charming Laundromatinee session, I’ve been spinning his 1991 pop masterpiece, Girlfriend, in heavy rotation. In retaliation to the battle lines that have been drawn over recent decades between pop radio and the more critically adored, relevant music, I’ve opted to spin Sweet’s loveable songs to get back in the arms of a good friend and again remember such a divide needn’t necessarily exist. I was merely 8 years old upon Girlfriend’s initial release, but I discovered its majesty in the mid 90’s and fell in love with it time and again during college and into my 20s. From the opening lick of “Divine Intervention” through the irresistible, sunsoaked glory of the title track and into the resplendent, lovesick ballad “Winona”, Girlfriend is an unabashedly appealing collection of pop bliss; like a greatest hits collection recorded and delivered in a single wave of artistic inspiration. That it didn’t catch fire could be for any number of reasons; the most obvious being that Girlfriend was but one of several quintessential, no-filler albums released that year. The others were the works that tapped into youth discontent and would go down in the annals of rock history and spur the 90’s zeitgeist. That’s not to say Sweet’s music was so far removed from the bands of the time that got huge, especially compared to the disparity in 2011 of radio hits versus the artists finding critical acclaim. Sweet has an undeniable adoration for the pop of countless, indispensable artists from the 60’s and 70’s (Cobain wasn’t so different. He, too, had an unabashed love for The Beatles), but too many of those influences were surely lost upon the outcast crowd that became the in-crowd overnight. I grew up with and adore the music of that first wave of 90’s rock; it’s just a shame with 20 years hindsight that there wasn’t enough room in the collective consciousness for someone as gifted as Matthew Sweet at creating timeless pop.
I love the diverse, High Fidelity Top 5 sort of notion that any type of song can be great pop music, regardless of its blues, soul, rock or Sun Records backbone. I’m pretty sure Matthew Sweet would side with me. I don’t buy into the unspoken blogosphere mandate that music must cross uncharted waters, be icily experimental or incendiary to be relevant or renowned. Matthew Sweet is a gifted purveyor of pop. He expertly crafts personal songs, and they resonate deeply. I won’t fight my adoration for catchy songs about young, new, lost or unrequited love decked out in memorable hooks, big riffs and delicious harmonies. When such songs and artists find an audience, they are Pop. For a musician that has found longevity in a career spanning 3 decades since his beginnings playing alongside Michael Stipe (before R.E.M. was a household name), not to mention a breakthrough album that sounds just as perfect now as it did 20 years ago, Sweet is at the height of his powers when he sticks to his guns, bucks trends and delivers heart-on-sleeve, radio gems and shoots for the long dormant Top of the Pops. Music such as the collection of gems on Girlfriend will always be relevant to those who choose to seek it out. I’m pleased knowing he’s made a career of writing and playing them for us, even if it’s not the moment’s trend.
Matthew Sweet’s new release, Modern Art, is currently out on Missing Piece Records. The 20th anniversary reissue of Girlfriend is also available now with deluxe packaging and plenty of worthy bonus material.
Recorded and Mixed by Eric Klee Johnson at The Pop Machine
Filmed and Edited by Dan Dark and Doug Fellegy
Written by Justin Wesley