Since he is a consistently interesting songwriter, the varying successes of Matthew Sweet’s solo albums are partially dependent on the contributions of collaborators. His 5th album—100% Fun—featured the finest set of collaborators thus far. It combined guitar solos by Richard Lloyd (late of Television—a band you should be listening to) and Robert Quine, both longtime collaborators, with Brendan O’Brien’s production which focuses Sweet’s pop-meets-Crazy Horse sound more precisely than any other producer. On the previous, and 6th release, Blue Sky on Mars, Sweet performed his own guitar solos and O’Brien once again produced. Sweet’s latest and 7th album, In Reverse, features neither Lloyd/Quine nor O’Brien and is most successful when it avoids comparison with this previous work.
The majority of the album features Sweet’s familiar themes (love is wonderful, you hurt me and I’m down and I hate you) tackled in four minutes with straightforward four piece rock band production. “Beware My Love” and “Hide” are nice enough songs, Greg Leisz and Pete Phillips provide tasteful solos, and the recurring use of backwards sounds (befitting the title and upside-down packaging) is entertaining. Yet one senses the absence of the previous collaborators.
With several tracks on the album however, three of which not by accident are the finest on the album, Sweet goes for grandeur. The regretful “If Time Permits” is second track on the album, while the equally mournful “Worse to Live” has a sweep which in the old days would serve as the closer for a cassette or LP side. On a cd it is a foretaste of the epic “Thunderstorm” (with the conventional “Untitled” serving as a filler).
“Thunderstorm,” “If Time Permits” and “Worse to Live,” feature at least 15 performers, some playing multiple instruments, for what amounts to a Phil Spector-like “Wall of Sound.” “Thunderstorm” in particular suits this production perfectly. This 10 minute track is the combination of four shorter songs Sweet was writing independent of one another. The four parts blend together and the song loops back around for a brief reprise of the first tune. A room full of musicians seems particularly appropriate for a song of this scope.
Not that every future Matthew Sweet song should have three bass guitar parts, but the tracks that do, especially “Thunderstorm”—his most adventurous solo song—make In Reverse worth hearing.