Matthew Sweet: Sunshine Lies
Shout! Factory

Anyone thinking Matthew Sweet might be mellowing after cranking out songs for so many years (the breakthrough came when “Girlfriend” and the album of the same name catapulted him to fame in 1991) will be thoroughly appeased of any such notion after hearing Sunshine Lies. Much of Sweet's tenth studio album rocks with a near-punk swagger and the bruising guitar attack he's deployed so often remains solidly in place too. Of course, the late Richard Quine is no longer present to trade fire with Richard Lloyd but the famed Television axesmith is on hand (though not nearly as much as we'd like) to tangle with Ivan Julian (Richard Hell & the Voidoids) and Greg Leisz (six-string, 12-string and slide guitars, pedal steel). Songs like “Feel Fear” and “Pleasure Is Mine” show Sweet's lost none of his songwriting gifts along the way, and one of the album's major pleasures is hearing the jagged roar Julian, Lloyd, and/or Sweet add to almost every song (check out the snarling duel Julian and Lloyd perform in the ferocious “Flying”).

The album begins in psychedelic mode with the trippy pop swirl of “Time Machine,” where Sweet wheels out a Mellotron of all things once the soaring choruses have had their say. That spacey vibe re-emerges in the gloriously vibrant “Sunshine Lies” which Susanna Hoffs and Sweet's wife Lisa sweeten with lush backup vocals. Sweet spits out his lyrics in the bruising “Room to Rock” and “Sunrise Eyes” while his signature melodicism gets a nice workout in “Byrdgirl” (whose jangly folk-rock is boosted by the delicious vocal hook “Walking into a wildfire / Running into the rain”), the piano-based ballad “Feel Fear,” gorgeous “Pleasure Is Mine” (whose “Let me look you in the eye” chorus might be the album's most affecting), Byrds-like “Around You Now,” and, graced by Leisz's mandolin and barracuda riffing by Lloyd, the soaring outro “Back of the Mind.”

Thankfully Sweet's music sounds no less sincere on Sunshine Lies than it does on the classic Girlfriend, Altered Beast, and 100% Fun albums, something already confirmed by the affection which he and Hoffs brought to their recent ‘60s tribute Under The Covers Vol. 1. Though whatever buzz surrounding Sweet has long since settled, anyone looking for evidence of irony or bitterness on Sunshine Lies will be disappointed. The man rips into the album's material with the visceral passion of someone laying down tracks for the first time. Having said that, it should also be noted that, in terms of artistic growth, anyone looking for major advances from the earlier classics will be disappointed as Sunshine Lies evidences no dramatic degree of change from his past work. If, on the other hand, you're looking for new variations on Sweet's signature moves, the new material won't disappoint.

November 2008