Very, very few musicians have made consistently great music for 25 years. Just take a look at Metallica, who hasn’t released anything worth a shit since 1991 or The Rolling Stones, who haven’t released a decent album since the early freakin’ 70s. Even Johnny Cash had a blue period – excluding his work with The Highwaymen, pretty much everything he put out between 1979 and 1993 was just various shades of aural dog shit.
Which is what makes Matthew Sweet, in my humblest of opinions, the single most underrated musician on the planet. This is a guy who has made nothing but solid album after solid album for the past quarter century. The Beatles didn’t even have a 25-year career. Neither did Nirvana, Led Zeppelin or Bob Marley. Meanwhile, Matthew Sweet has been making (far better) records for far longer than all of those overrated rock and roll titans combined – yet I’d venture to guess a good 90 percent of the people reading this have never heard of him before.
Please … let’s do fix that, why don’t we?
While Sweet has been making music since the mid-1980s, he didn’t really make it big until his 1991 album Girlfriend. The title track got a shit ton of airplay on MTV back in the day, and in a way, that remains the apex of his mainstream popularity. Still, Sweet continued to churn out alt rock masterpiece after alt rock masterpiece, beginning with 1993’s Altered Beast (yes, it is named after the Sega Genesis pack-in game), 1995’s 100% Fun and 1997’s Blue Sky on Mars. I guess now’s a good time to give you a sample of his work, ain’t it? This is “Where You Get Love” off Blue Sky On Mars – if your toes don’t start automatically tapping when the synth-solo kicks in, you might want to check if you still have a pulse:
After that Sweet went indie, and his work became a bit more singer-songwriter-ish for a couple of years. While In Reverse (1999), Kimi Ga Suki (2003) and Living Things (2004) aren’t bad albums by any stretch, they’re certainly his least, for lack of a better description, Sweet-ish. I suppose every musician is entitled to an “experimental phase,” though, and as far as neo-psychedelic power-pop from the 2000s goes, there’s certainly far worse material to trudge through.
I’m of the mind that Sweet got his second wind beginning in 2006 with his first Under the Covers album with Susanna Hoffs (a.k.a, that chick from the Bangles you still want to make out with.) Here, Sweet got back to the guitar-driven power pop dynamism of his salad years, and he immediately followed that up with 2008’s Sunshine Lies, an absolutely loaded ass-kicker of an album that’s every bit as solid as his absolute best work from the early and mid 1990s. After two more Under the Covers entries, Sweet released Modern Art in 2011, which would be his last studio album for almost seven years. Incidentally, I saw him perform at the storied 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga. to support the album, and – no surprise, really – it remains the single best concert I’ve ever attended.
Which brings us to Sweet’s newest album, Tomorrow Forever. And if you’re wondering if Sweet still has it after all these years, one listen to the lead-off track “Trick” tells you everything you need to know:
You just don’t hear great, old-fashioned, guitar-driven pop-rock like this anymore. Like Cheap Trick and the Raspberries and the Buzzcocks before him, Sweet is an absolute virtuoso at crafting catchy rock and roll anthems and heart-rending, almost country-esque ballads. He’s the direct antithesis of today’s overproduced, electro-techno-sample gobbledygook emo crap that passes for rock music, and for that, not only does he deserve to be recognized, he ought to be celebrated as perhaps the last TRUE rock and roll hero in the business.
As a matter of fact, his music is so good that it deserves the absolute highest honor ANY of us can bestow upon bona fide art in this day and age – that being, actually paying to hear him do what he does best.