Power-pop legend Matthew Sweet was born in Nebraska, but moved to Athens, Georgia, to join the local alt-rock scene. He recorded two unsuccessful records in the 1980s, before his 1991 breakthrough Girlfriend. The record showcased the brilliant lead guitar of Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine, as well as Sweet’s warm harmonies and bass playing.
Sweet has released at least two brilliant studio albums – as well as Girlfriend, the chamber-pop of 1999’s In Reverse is an overlooked classic. He’s stayed busy in the 21st century; as well as his solo career, he’s released a series of cover albums with Susanna Hoffs and playing with The Thorns. Here are ten of my favourite Matthew Sweet tunes:
10 Best Matthew Sweet Songs
#10 Save Time For Me
from Inside, 1986
Matthew Sweet became successful with his third record – 1991’s Girlfriend. His first record, Inside, was released on Sony in 1986. ‘Save Time For Me’ lacks the alternative edge of his later work – there are chiming keyboards instead of aggressive guitars, and the rhythm section is unadventurous. Nevertheless, ‘Save Time For Me’ is a pretty Matthew Sweet song with warm vocals and stacked harmonies.
#9 So Far
from Time Capsule: Best of 90/00, 2000
Sweet recorded two new songs for his end-of-the-decade summary, Time Capsule: Best of 90/00. ‘So Far’ is the standout, a punchy power-pop number using Sweet’s lovely harmonies in the soaring chorus.
from Girlfriend, 1991
‘Girlfriend’ is the title track to Sweet’s most popular album and his most-played song on Spotify, but he needed some persuasion from collaborator Lloyd Cole to include it on the record. Robert Quine’s arty guitar leads and the raw sound make ‘Girlfriend’ stand out from the power-pop pack, as does the great anime video.
#7 Smog Moon
from 100% Fun, 1995
100% Fun ends with a classy piano ballad, coloured by Greg Leisz’s lap steel. ‘Smog Moon’ is given some edge by the heavy guitars and by the way Sweet’s voice appealingly strains for the high notes. The title 100% Fun is taken from a line in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note: “The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun.”
#6 Worse To Live
from In Reverse, 1999
There are a number of great deep cuts on 1999’s baroque-pop album In Reverse – pretty mid-tempo tunes like ‘Trade Places’ and the beautiful piano balladry of ‘Hide’. My favourite trick on ‘Worse To Live’ is how the verse and chorus overlap; Sweet’s voice drops low at the end of the verse, as the chorus comes in over the top. The terrific French horn part is icing.
#5 Where You Get Love
from Blue Sky On Mars, 1997
Sweet deviated from his 1990s formula for 1997’s Blue Sky On Mars. The scintillating guest guitarists are gone, and most of the instruments are played by Sweet and producer Brendan O’Brien. On ‘Where You Get Love’, O’Brien plays a synth part that recalls Cheap Trick’s ‘Dream Police’ while Sweet delivers a cheerleader chorus.
#4 Sick of Myself
from 100% Fun, 1995
The opening song and lead single from Sweet’s fifth album, ‘Sick of Myself’ delivers more of Sweet’s punchy power-pop. It features a great Richard Lloyd guitar solo. ‘Sick of Myself’ only charted at US #58, but it’s apparently the second-highest charting song by a Nebraskan, behind Randy Meisner’s ‘Never Been In Love’.
#3 I’ve Been Waiting
from Girlfriend, 1991
Girlfriend represented both sides of the romantic coin. Some songs reflected Sweet’s recent divorce, like the resignation of ‘You Don’t Love Me’ and ‘Nothing Lasts’. There were also songs that reflected the excitement of new love; “I didn’t think I’d find you/Perfect in so many ways” is the key couplet from ‘I’ve Been Waiting’. Musically, ‘I’ve Been Waiting’ is sunny Californian pop, with a country sheen.
from Girlfriend, 1991
On first impression, ‘Evangeline’ sounds like it covers similar territory to Billy Joel’s ‘Only The Good Die Young’ – a horny narrator frustrated by his love interest’s celibacy. It’s actually based on the comic Evangeline, about “a sexy killer vigilante nun”. It’s also an excellent showcase for Richard Lloyd’s virtuoso guitar soloing.
#1 If Time Permits
from In Reverse, 1999
Sweet intentionally recreated the Phil Spector and Brian Wilson wall-of-sound on several In Reverse cuts. The presence of veteran bassist Carole Kaye adds authenticity to the 1960s homage, and there’s a great backwards guitar solo.
Did I miss your favourite Matthew Sweet tune? Are you upset that Altered Beast and his 21st-century material have been neglected here?
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The guitar solos on the song “Girlfriend “are incredible. Nice post.
I always prefer the clinical mathematical playing of Richard Lloyd to Quine’s arty roar, but he’s great on this track. Gives it some rough edges.
Sick of Myself is among my favourite opening tracks!
Yup, it’s a great start. For me, the record gets a little spotty thereafter, but the opening triple of Sick of Myself, Not When I Need It, and We’re The Same is amazing.
Fantastic selection, Graham. I could possibly replace one or two with others, but these are all classics. I’m especially pleased to see “Smog Moon” here, which might be my favorite song from my favorite Matthew Sweet album. I remember getting an advance copy of the album on cassette a couple of months prior to release, and all the song titles were hand-written. That song looked like “Smug Moon” to me, and I still think that would have been a great title.
There’s a smug moon coming and I’m smug because I can always feel it?
Can’t argue with these at all. Most of his songs are so likable. Girlfriend is the first song that I heard from him…I have yet to hear something I didn’t like. Love the Hoffs covers also.
He had a great formula – he’s great at bass, rhythm guitar, and backing vocals, then he’d get experts in for the other things. I’ve only briefly dabbled with some of the covers records on Youtube, but they do sound pretty cool.
I’ve seen a few interviews with a drummer he uses….the name escapes me. He is great as well.
I’ve listened to some of the Beatles covers they did…they are pretty good.
Couldn’t argue with anything here, good sir.
Songs I would add might include “Not when I need it” (100% Fun), “What matters” (In Rev), “Pretty please” (Tomorrow Forever) and “Someone to pull the trigger” (Alt Beast).
And I’ll have a crack at sneaking in “Think it over” from the criminally neglected Thorns album.
Thank you! ‘Not When I Need It’ is great – definitely a list contender, and ‘What Matters’ is one of many great songs on In Reverse.
Graham, I’m sure there are also gems on the later albums, but I just don’t know them as well. Do you rate The Thorns album?
I listened to it on a plane once ten years ago…. I should try it out again sometime.
Do. It grew on me steadily over the years.
I only ever bought one Sweet album 100% Fun which was quite good. Great post.
Thank you. I always assumed Girlfriend was the most famous one, but lots of people like 100% Fun.
Probably not surprising I’m a big fan. First heard him on Girlfriend – one of my favorite albums. Loved Altered Beast (although I thought it was not heavier less pop) and 100% Fun. Haven’t followed him since those albums – will have to check those out plus his first one (esp if it’s top of your list). Also agree Re adding Not What I Needed
The list is in chronological order, the 1980s one is pretty different from his other stuff. In Reverse is great if you don’t mind the chamber-pop sound.
I think we’ve been down this road before. All good songs. I find myself humming a few bars from Holy War a lot. Love that song.
Often I do a review page first, then make posts of lists etc based on those. Seems like a good way to do things.
Yup. Gets the musical juices flowing.
I really should like Matthew Sweet, but I haven’t spent any time listening to him. I’ll start with the playlist…
Enjoy. He’s not like a massively original writer, but I enjoy his warm voice and his penchant for recruiting amazing lead guitarists.
Sometimes that’s just what you need.
You missed my Matthew Sweet favorite, though it’s not really _his_ per se….
He played his take of Victoria Williams’ “This Moment” on Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams.
I just love the lyrics to the song:
Will never come again
I know it because it
Has never been before.”
Kinda says, “Live in the now. Enjoy the day. This moment. That’s what life is.”
Love the song, love his interpretation of it.
Thank you for writing in!
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