Now and then an album that thrills with every track and enchants with every listen emerges as an instantly recognizable landmark. One of the great joys in music listening is when an artist consistently produces stellar albums of that caliber and then astounds with a masterwork that goes beyond even that. With Sunshine Lies, Matthew Sweet has delivered such a masterwork and cemented his place as a true master of songcraft.
I’ve followed Matthew Sweet’s career since my musical interest started to mature and have counted him among the greats for as many years. Matthew’s 1990 breakthrough, Girlfriend, still stands today as one of the most important pop albums that decade held, the follow-up Altered Beast was an alternative scorcher that showcased his wide pallet, 100% Fun and Blue Sky on Mars rolled out with dynamism, In Reverse was a wall of sound masterpiece and the sparse collections Living Things and Kimi Ga Suki were heart-felt meditations on nature and living. His collaborations as part of The Thorns and with Susanna Hoffs are superb and his contributions to numerous compilations and soundtracks are always highlights. Simply, Matthew Sweet is a master who has created a musical legacy that is enduring, staggering and open-hearted.
Matthew describes Sunshine Lies as “power-pop-folk-rock-psychedelic-melodic-singer-songwriter-type stuff” and any less broad genre classification wouldn’t do justice to the expansiveness of this album. “Time Machine” is one of the messy, beautiful pop rock gems, while “Room to Rock” and “Flying” are raging rockers that bookend the folk rock of “Byrdgirl”, contrasting with the Buddha-tinged ballad “Feel Free” and setting the mood for the pinnacle of the album, The-Who-meets-Neil-Young blazer “Let’s Love”. Not only are the songs finely made, they’re also inherently fun; this is an album that brings the summer alive and invites listeners to soak up some roaring bliss.
Of the significant bands and artists to emerge in the ’90s, Lincoln, Nebraska-born Sweet is the odd man out. During a decade when cynicism, overstatement, and mean-spiritedness ruled, Sweet found a sizable audience by expressing himself with unselfconsciousness, subtlety, penetrating honesty and the sheer joy of constructing something cool.
While so many of his contemporaries disdained rock & roll’s past, Sweet has deftly channeled it, picking up where his inspirations from previous decades had left off. A sophisticated aural architect, Sweet absorbed the work of ’60s rock’s three “Bs”—the Beach Boys, Beatles and Byrds, along with ’70s avatars Neil Young and Big Star—with such a deep understanding of the spirit as well as the craft behind the music of the old masters that he was able to use these timeless palates in a fresh, highly personal way.
~ press release for Sunshine Lies
The music is beautiful enough to make Sunshine Lies irresistible, but the album art inspires awe as well. Brian Valentine has provided macro photography for the packaging that showcases his prolific and magnificent body of work. You can find thousands of his photographs in his Flickr account.
Sunshine Lies will be released on August 26.