Like many a rock nerd, I became infatuated with Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend in late 1991. Shimmering electric guitars and hooks a-plenty mixed together like morsels in a magical power-pop elixir that simmered atop the dying flames of ‘60s idealism. That unsung guitar heroes Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine (the former of Television, the latter of Lou Reed’s early ‘80s band) were whipping the white noise made the concoction even more tasty. Sweet’s fatalism, fueled by a failed marriage, rang as loud as the guitars. It was and remains a great album.
Altered Beast (1993) – his next album – sharpened the cynicism while trading the Beatlesque overtones of Girlfriend for a more overt Neil Young vibe – and the Son of Altered Beast EP (1994), which featured a handful of live tracks, upped the Neil quotient by including a cover of “Don’t Cry No Tears.” I played both a fair bit at the time and included tracks from each on various mixtapes.
My memories of 100% Fun (1995), however, are far more hazy; for whatever reason, the music simply didn’t connect with me – no doubt because of me, not it. Maybe if he’d released another album the following year, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but by the time he put out his next set, in 1997, I had moved on. As one does. The next times he popped up on my radar, and the only albums of his I’ve since purchased, are the three Under the Covers albums (2006, 2009 and 2013) he made with Susanna Hoffs.
I share that because I am not now, nor have I ever been, an omniscient music critic (though I did, for a short spell, sell reviews) who knows every artist’s oeuvre inside and out. I like what I like and write about what I like. So when I say that Catspaw, Sweet’s 15th solo set, is a damn good outing, believe it. Like Girlfriend, it contains high-octane guitars and hooks galore. And like Altered Beast, it occasionally veers into the darkness.
Another thing that old music geeks like me may appreciate: Playing “Name That Influence” with some songs. “Give a Little,” for instance, conjures Mott the Hoople.
He recorded the album in his home studio in Nebraska, playing all the instruments except for the drums, which were handled by Velvet Crush’s Ric Menck. The guitars are upfront and in your face, which is always a plus, but what I enjoy even more are the little things. “Drifting,” for example, contains a guitar pattern (more noticeable via headphones) that conjures the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” while the ending channels the Beatles. It’s quite cool.
I went for a brief drive earlier today, cranking Catspaw. In a flash, I was in my mid-20s and behind the wheel of my old car, simultaneously optimistic and cynical about the future. While all tomorrow’s parties have not come to pass (though some days it may seem that way), there are fewer of them left. if, like me, you drifted away from Sweet at some point in the recent or even distant past, give his latest a go. It’s a 40-minute trip well worth taking.
The track list: