Sweet delivers a strong set of songs on 100% Fun
Zoo Entertainment/BMG Music.
By Scott Deskin
Matthew Sweet's latest album, 100% Fun, is a highly enjoyable exercise in the musical sub-genre known as "power pop." Those familiar with Sweet's music probably only remember his 1991 breakthough third album, Girlfriend, which features the hit single of the same name. With Sweet's multi-tracked harmonies and a clean, crisp guitar, the hooks of "Girlfriend" won me over in short order. Trying to be a musical breakthrough, however, Sweet crammed his album with too many ideas - for instance, "Divine Intervention" is a stilted evocation of confused love. Then again, most of Sweet's songs deal with the same familiar themes - about failed or troubled relationships, mostly.
Some people may have been thrown a curve with 1993's Altered Beast and a sequel EP of sorts, Son of Altered Beast. Sweet's song structures became increasingly dependent on guitar, and some people complained about Sweet's voice somehow getting lost in the mix. People should lighten up. I've only listened to the EP, and Sweet's live performances sound loose and confident (including a cover of Neil Young's "Don't Cry No Tears," one of my favorites). With his new album, Sweet reclaims some ground by refusing to succumb to banal love songs and consolidates his popularity by bringing the vocals and guitars back into balance.
"Sick of Myself," the lead single from the album, is a fine, souped-up pop song that describes a person's self-loathing when he looks at his lover. It's a tongue-in-cheek song that succeeds in spite of its apparent off-handedness - the false break-ups at the end of the song may not be original, but they're enjoyable. Likewise, such songs as "Everything Changes," "Lost My Mind," and "I Almost Forgot" are different melodic takes on the ennui induced by dysfunctional relationships.
But don't mistake Sweet's attitude as being dazed and confused. For one thing, the songs, or even the ballads, are bouncy - without much effort, you can probably dance to most of them. Sweet's lyrics are fairly cynical (100% Fun, as an album title, is a pretty good joke), but never clinical: "You can't stomach the truth / And I only tell lies / You don't care if you live / I don't care if I die" (from "Lost My Mind,") is a clever couplet that suggests Sweet's fast-approaching maturity as a songwriter.
Matthew Sweet still has the knack for writing heartfelt, romantic pleas in his songs. On "We're the Same," a variation on the "we're both at fault" love songs, Sweet croons, "Baby we're the same / When we fail in each other's eyes." "Giving it Back," the next song, is a reflection of the singer in a morose relationship: At first, "Your depth of sadness was a gift / And for a while I cherished it," but "My will to fight has gone away / So I'm giving it back to you."
Though no individual song matches "Girlfriend" for power-pop accessibility, Sweet's topics don't seem trite or banal. In fact, when Sweet appropriates part of the chorus of Toto's synth-rock-shlock masterwork "Rosanna" to the melody of "Smog Moon," the final track on the album, I don't mind.
Sweet playfully acknowledges his influences on 100% Fun, and the finished product nearly lives up to the title. Together with producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots), Matthew Sweet has revitalized his career with this small victory in '90s pop music.