Matthew Sweet Prolongs His Winning Streak with 'Tomorrow's Daughter'
It's album 13 for Matthew Sweet and although the old dog isn't performing many new tricks, the old ones are working just fine, thank you very much.
18 May 2018
Power pop is a lot like ice cream. It's sweet and tasty and makes you feel great, but too much of it will make you feel slightly sick or leave you with a headache. I mean, how many songs about doomed or unrequited love, played by men of a certain age on earnestly strummed electric guitars can you take, before you reach for the Pepto-Bismol? Fortunately, Matthew Sweet has managed to create his own form of a musical genre which can often be consumed and with no ill effects. It's the Sweet you can eat between meals. Sorry, I couldn't resist that.
It's lucky album 13 for Mr. Sweet - 13 albums which have taken him from drum machine-driven new wave through to lush alt-rock via a couple of dead ends. On the way, he's managed to release a hatful of albums that have set the benchmark, for intelligent, well written and durable pop-rock. It's early days, but Tomorrow's Daughter could soon be rubbing shoulders with Girlfriend at the top table of his output.
No risks are taken here. No envelopes are pushed nor barriers broken. Instead, we get 12 tracks of jukebox friendly, modern pop that even the most curmudgeonly listener would tap a toe to. It follows neatly in the footsteps of last years equally great Tomorrow Forever album. There's another release planned for this November, too. I guess we shouldn't be too surprised at Sweet's prodigious output, as his widely bootlegged outtakes and studio floor sweepings must rival Prince in terms of volume. Fortunately, Sweet seems to have a greater grip of quality control than His Royal Purpleness had and reins his (officially released) output in nicely. No sprawling, quintuple albums of wildly varying quality – just cherry-picked nuggets of pop.
The format is simple – the drums (solidly played here by Bangle Debbi Peterson or long-term Sweet alumnus Ric Menck) provide a solid backdrop, Sweet plays uppercut rhythm guitar and John Moreman or Menck's Velvet Crush bandmate Paul Chastain, play some tough but melodic lead guitar. "I Belong to You" (which doesn't so much end as fall over exhausted), "Lady Frankenstein" and "Now Was the Future" cling to this template, but the songs are so strong, it doesn't really matter. If you want head scratching, punishing time changes and lengthy song cycles, may I bring your attention to the works of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer? If you want tunes you whistle, that don't suck, well here you go. Sweet also has the knack of writing mid-tempo tunes that don't drag like a two-ton anchor - power pop does uptempo really well, in addition to the occasional heart-on-my-sleeve ballad, but anything other than that is a bit hit and miss. On Tomorrow's Daughter, "Ever After" and "Run Away" hover around the two slow to dance to and too fast to smooch to mark, but still work incredibly well.
You might not think you need 12 tracks of rocking yet wistful pop-rock written and performed by an unassuming looking, 53-year-old guy, but you do. Sweet is aging well, and his voice and songwriting chops are still there in abundance. The harmonies on the record add a lovely sparkly sheen to many of the songs and every musician on it plays to serve the song. Guitar solos are many but are mercifully brief, and all of them are tuneful. All in all, it's a masterclass in understatement and getting it right. 2018 sees Sweet undertaking his umpteenth US tour, and it remains to be seen if his audiences will be swelled by people hearing him for the first time on Tomorrow's Daughter. If they aren't, it's kind of a shame, as it would be a great place to start.
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