May 2, 2011 § 3 Comments
“In a deceiving way, time is only a dream.” -Matthew Sweet, “Through Your Eyes”
I gave myself the task of ranking my top 20 Matthew Sweet songs for my first playlist of the summer. Sweet, for those of you who haven’t been indoctrinated, is one of the great American songwriters. He is Nebraskan. He writes shimmery pop songs, devastatingly sad songs, songs that are both, folk songs, hard rock songs. Great songs, mostly. Here’s my list, culled from a list of 50 songs I really and truly love: the best of the best. I’d love to hear others’ favorites. This world needs a Matthew Sweet revival.
20. “Back of My Mind,” from Sunshine Lies. Sunshine Lies is one of those albums that sneaks up on you, and you only realize it’s good after four or five listens. This song is the first example on this list of the central theme of Sweet’s oeuvre: inexorable, pliable, hateful, merciful Time, and the vast range of human reactions to the phenomenon.
19-17. “Millennium Blues,” “If Time Permits,” and “Beware My Love,” from In Reverse. This three-song suite opens the album; its bookend, the magisterial nine-minute “Thunderstorm,” was one of the toughest omissions from this list. I love the horns in “Millennium Blues,” and that great transition from the sweetness of “If Time Permits” to the slightly psychedelic menace of “Beware My Love.” This album, just by the way, was criminally overlooked. Criminally. It’s fantastic, and it’s not even one of his best three albums.
16. “Let’s Love,” from Sunshine Lies. In which Mr. Sweet displays his incomparable gifts for the Hook and the Harmony. (Link to a live acoustic version.)
15. “Through Your Eyes,” from Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu. A great song about Buddhist cosmology, from Sweet’s album for his Japanese fans which finally got released in the US after word got out how great it was. The Girlfriend lineup is in full force here.
14. “Where You Get Love,” from Blue Sky on Mars. I have no explanation for why this wasn’t a massive hit, back in 1997. I know I was psyched about it. I know it had a really rad video. I know it’s as propulsive as anything he’s written. Seriously, someone tell me: why wasn’t this a hit, and why did this album tank? Were keyboards really that uncool in 1997?
13. “Morning Song,” from Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu. Quintessential Sweet: shimmery, sunny, gorgeous, beautiful, but with a touch of darkness in the lyrics. Plus it’s a helluva lotta fun to sing along with.
12. “What Do You Know?,” from Altered Beast. I am tempted to make all sorts of grandiose claims for this album — most underappreciated album in American pop music, one of the top ten albums of the ’90s, most expansive, genre-defying rock record of the decade, etc. — but I’m unqualified for all that. So I’ll just say you really, really need to go listen to it if you haven’t, or even if you haven’t in a while. And if you trash it, I will come after you like a spider monkey.
11. “Untitled,” from In Reverse. I have no words. This song’s just gorgeous. Instead, here’s a question: why haven’t these songs been covered more often? Half of the songs here could be massive hits for a country star. Or anyone, really.
10. “We’re the Same,” from 100% Fun. For me, like probably a lot of people my age, this is the soundtrack of the summer of ’95. It’s a perfect summer song. It sounds fantastic when you’re driving around at night with the windows down. Here’s the thing: Matthew Sweet can write a pure, perfect pop song in his sleep. Like Prince. Like Paul McCartney. There’s only a handful of these people. It starts the top ten, then, but every song that I ranked higher than this takes that gift and does something extra-special with it. At least to these ears.
9. “Sunlight,” from Living Things. A really cool song, aurally, with an epic feel, and a lot of layers. There’s a lot of interesting nature and animal imagery in this album’s lyrics, as there is in much of Sweet’s work.
8. “Evangeline,” from Girlfriend. Girlfriend. Where to start here? Like a lot of people, this is where I started with Sweet. And on first listen, when I was 14, this was my favorite song. I’ve had at least five different favorite songs on this album (always a trademark of a classic album when it keeps up with your changing tastes). In those pre-www days, I was really keen to find the Evangeline comics, and could not for the life of me, in small-town Nebraska. Now I work at a library that owns them, and I’ve shown them to undergraduate students studying visual art, comics, and the like — mostly because it just makes me happy to be able to do so. (Link to a live version.)
7. “I Don’t Want to Know,” from Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu. Love the kitty at the start. And the tambourines — or are they sleigh bells? And the chorus, one of his best.
6. “Smog Moon,” from 100% Fun. It sort of kills me to leave this out of the top five. I cannot be in the same room with you if you do not appreciate this song. One of my favorite final tracks ever. “There’s a smog moon/ In the amber sky/ Wavering and burning like a golden lie.” Also, “We both know that staying young can take its toll.” (Link to hilarious Vampire Diaries fan video scored to this song.)
5. “Time Capsule,” from Altered Beast. Another song with a fantastic (and creepy!) video. While I love the songs I ranked above this a tad more, I think this is probably the song I’d pick if I had to introduce someone to Matthew Sweet with only one song. My second-favorite Sweet chorus, especially that last line, toe-tripping down the stairs.
4. “Winona,” from Girlfriend. The go-to song for wallowing in melancholic self-pity, as a teenager. Because of that, and because it’s a song that just really sounds good as a duet, it is incredibly satisfying to sing along with a loved one, holding hands, having gotten past all that. (Link to creepy Winona Ryder slideshow, but hey, it’s the only source on YouTube for the original song.)
3. “Sick of Myself,” from 100% Fun. I know, I know: Nirvana. But this was as close as I ever got to claiming an anthem. Hell, realistically, the generation was never as idealistic nor as hopelessly fucked up as Nirvana would lead you to believe. This song reflects that.
2. “Girlfriend,” from Girlfriend. I would appreciate the opportunity to love somebody. Oh, are you looking for someone whom you could love?
Seriously though: I suppose the key to this song, beyond one of the best riffs in history, is the Chorus of Angelic Matthew Sweets. They’ve never sounded better. That and the interplay of electric, steel, and acoustic guitars.
1. “Someone to Pull the Trigger,” from Altered Beast. But this, right here, is the best Matthew Sweet song. Stone cold perfect. “I need someone to pull the trigger/ ‘Cause there’s a hole in my heart getting bigger/ And everything I’ll ever be I’ve been/ And I need someone to pull the trigger/ So if you’re what I think you’ll be,/ If you’re who I think I see,/ shoot.” That, my friends, is as great a chorus as any of us will ever hear.
By the way, this needs to be available in a karaoke version. (Kellyn, I’m looking at you. Make it happen.) You could really get a room full of drunks sobbing with this one.