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Sparkling, Jangly Pop
Modern Art (Missing Piece Records)
By Kevin Gibson
It's almost like 1991 again. Almost. Pop tunesmith Matthew Sweet, whose seminal album Girlfriend helped kick off the alternative rock movement of the early 1990s, is 20 years old, and still stands out as one of the great power pop records of – well, ever.
Even as Sweet tours to celebrate this album – he will be playing it in its entirety October 11 at Headliners – he brings forth a new collection of originals titled Modern Art that, while not quite measuring up to Sweet's masterpiece, holds up quite well for the middle-aged rocker.
Right from the start of the record (I love calling CDs and downloads "records"), Sweet draws on his 1960s pop and psychedelic influences. "Oh, Oldendaze" and "Ivory Tower" are both tunes that would have made the stoned-out Beatles happy, and that is followed up by the single (at least it had better be), "She Walks the Night." The spooky intro gives way to a Byrds-like jangle-pop tune – it actually resembles "Mr. Tambourine Man," if you listen closely – about a spectral woman that could probably even stand up to the classic "I've Been Waiting" from Girlfriend.
Perhaps best of all, Sweet's voice sounds as crisp and alive as it did 20 years ago, and the layers of double tracks and backing vocals only add to the warmth of this pop collection. In addition, the instrumentation allows the dynamics of the recordings to breathe fully, which is a huge compliment in this age of over-compression. Oh, and hats off the bass sound and the runs that populate the more experimental songs. (Sir Paul McCartney would be proud.)
Other highlights on the record (!!) include the melancholy but beautiful "A Little Death;" the melodic "Baltimore;" the off-kilter and percussive "My Ass is Grass;" and the mournful "December Dark." And the album closer "Sleeping" literally gave me chills.
Pop nerds, rejoice – this is the best thing Sweet has created in many years, and is a wonderful surprise. It's good to hear him sounding so vital and creative, both in his songwriting and in the studio. This is one damn good pop record. (Yes, record. See what I did there?)
Learn more at matthewsweet.com.