Girlfriend (Zoo ’91) Rating: A-
It’s hard to believe that Girlfriend was turned down by numerous record labels, or that it didn’t make Matthew Sweet famous. Those are the unfortunate breaks of a fickle industry, because Girlfriend (Sweet’s third release, but a significant step up from what had come before it) is a terrific power pop record, as well as a great guitar record. Sweet has written a varied batch of significant songs here, and as an added bonus we get treated to the cutting guitar heroics of art punk legends Richard Lloyd (ex-Television) and Richard Quine (the former Voidoid and Lou Reed crony) on rocking tunes such as “Divine Intervention” and the Lou Reed-ish title track, a minor hit that's probably his signature song. Sweet also delivers delicious pop choruses on “I’ve Been Waiting,” “Looking At The Sun,” and “Evangeline.” Here he gorgeously multi-tracks his own voice to produce airy harmonies, but his lovelorn lyrics are often in stark contrast to the joyously uplifting music. At times Sweet is embarrassingly earnest (“Winona”), at other times distressingly sad and self-pitying (“Thought I Knew You,” “You Don’t Love Me,” “Don't Go,” “Nothing Lasts”). On these songs there’s no denying Sweet’s somber mood, and the lovely music sometimes carries a mournful country hue courtesy of a pedal steel guitar. On the whole, however, when I think of this album I think of loud, summery pop rock songs with shimmery guitars and soaring vocals. True, Sweet’s songwriting falters a bit towards the end of this hour long album, which suffers somewhat from CD-era length, but some wailing guitar fretworks generally salvage even the lesser songs. Simply put, although he's released other fine albums (Altered Beast, 100% Fun, and In Reverse come immediately to mind), Girlfriend remains the career defining album from this premiere power pop craftsman.