You’ve Got Me Runnin’ Around In Your

I’ve been thinking about Matthew Sweet for the first time in a long time recently. For those unfamiliar with him — and, to be brutally honest, I’m not sure why anyone should be that familiar with him these days — he was a leading light of the Power Pop movement in the 1990s, with a nigh-unbeatable string of albums that were laden with hooks, riffs and his unfortunately nasal voice, and at the time, I was very much a fan.

From Girlfriend through, say, Blue Sky on Mars — that’s 1991 through 1997 for those of you keeping track of how time actually works — Sweet was one of the guiding lights of my musical tastes. It was the Britpop era, and in many ways, Sweet was the U.S. version of that, borrowing just as liberally from the 1960s British pop scene as an Oasis or a Menswear, and then choosing to do slightly other things with the fruits of his thievery, which also included American influences like Buffalo Springfield or the Beach Boys.

Despite how much his tastes and intent echoed the then-dominant music trends, there was something about Matthew Sweet’s output that felt “uncool” at a time when I actually cared about such things. I remember friends making fun of me for being into him, and me feeling a very stupid sense of shame as a result. (I was young, I didn’t know any better.) This didn’t actually make me like his music any less; it just made me listen to it on my own, far from judging ears.

Sweet didn’t stop making music after Blue Sky on Mars; he even had an album out a couple years later, called In Reverse. It’s simply that something had changed in that intervening period; maybe it was him, maybe me, or perhaps a mix of both, but I was bored of that album and what felt like his shift towards mid-tempo mediocrity. I tried to get into it over and over again, but my tastes had moved on to stranger things — 1997, when Blue Sky on Mars came out, was also the year I got into Super Furry Animals, David Holmes and Primal Scream, and followed their influences outwards — so, by 1999, I wanted more than what sounded increasingly like the Eagles.

Now, more than two decades later, I find myself wanting to revisit all of the stuff I loved before, and the stuff I didn’t back then, to see if my own aging process has softened my opinions, or if I’ll be disappointed by my younger self. Just how strong a drug is nostalgia, anyway…?

366 Songs 121: Dinosaur Act

And while I’m talking about (a) nostalgia, (b) Matthew Sweet and (c) great opening tracks to albums, the quasi-glam stomp of “Dinosaur Act” was the song that almost made me learn to play the guitar, way back when, just because of all the feedback noodling in the background.

(And, again: Matthew Sweet loves his harmonies. Gotta appreciate that.)

366 Songs 120: Divine Intervention

Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend was a massively important album for me in… 1993, I think? When I started art school, anyway. I was just discovering bands like Big Star and the like, and “power pop” as a genre, and “Divine Intervention” – despite its religious theme (Hardly subtle: “Does He love us/Does He love us/Does He love us/Does He love us?” it goes at one point, “I look around/And all I see is destruction/Guess we’re counting on His/Divine intervention”) – blew my mind with its arrangement, as much as anything. The harmonies! The guitars! And, more than anything, that opening, which remains one of my favorite album openings ever (especially if listening on headphones, to get the full effect of the switch from right to left channels). This is just a great pop song, and was enough to convince me to follow Sweet’s music for at least two albums longer than I should’ve.

366 Songs 039: Girlfriend

Besides Jellyfish’s (sadly meager) output, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend is pretty much my template for “power pop” as a musical genre; it has the 1960s emphasis on harmonies, guitars and songs that are easy to singalong to, but it also has a particularly 1990s sheen to the overall production. That’s what “power pop” is, for me; an attempt to evoke the 1960s in a very then-contemporary way (Things like Lilys’ Better Can’t Make Your Life Better, for example, with a sound that’s far, far closer to the actual production values of the original ’60s pop and garage bands, are something other than power pop, for some reason; I know that it’s a particularly weird line to have, but it’s mine and it’s there, dammit. Sorry). In those terms, I’m not sure it gets much better than “Girlfriend,” which is Sweet in full-on sugary-pop mode giving it his all with his nasal voice and love of guitar solos. Outside of all the “ooooooh” and “aaaaaaaah” backing vocals – which I adore, no joke – what really makes this song so memorable for me are the lyrics, which are so… childlike, I guess, in such a weird way: “I wanna love somebody/I hear you need somebody to love” and “Oh honey, believe me/I’d sure like to call you my girlfriend” are the kinds of things that you’d expect from someone who’s never been in any kind of relationship ever, which I somehow manage to take as charming rather than, say, offputtingly naive. So much of Sweet’s 1990s peak feels like the work of someone who’s obsessively listened to their favorite records over and over again, taking them apart to see how they work and then trying to recreate them with each new song they write, and that idea follows through on “Girlfriend,” which you can believe is the work of someone who’s so much of a music nerd that they’ve not had time to actually pursue a real life relationship of their own. And yet… that kind of nerditry appeals to me, here; if you’re going to write a song called “Girlfriend,” why not have it sound as if it’s being sung by someone for whom that word still holds a special charge…?