Although Matthew Sweet began his career in the 1980s, he first came to prominence in the 1990s. When the radio waves were owned by moody grunge rock, Matthew Sweet played a particularly potent brand of power pop. He is best known for his 1991 album, Girlfiend. The album’s titular single went to #4 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and #10 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Sweet’s late 90s work and all his work in the new millennium has fallen on fairly deaf ears, never producing the same critical or commercial success as his early 90s work. His eleventh studio album is Modern Art.
For those only familiar with Sweet’s work in the early to mid-90s, Modern Art is going to sound fairly foreign. The once vibrant power pop of Sweet’s career has become weird and more experimental. Now Sweet dabbles in psychedelic pop. The album’s lead single “She Walks the Night” starts with maniacal sounding ambient noise before breaking into a Zombies-style pop song. While the song is the closest thing on the album to a classic Matthew Sweet song, it has its odd moments. The song is five minutes long but two-and-a-half minutes in all the music drops out and there is just a little commotion of what sounds like movement of equipment. The break lasts about 10 seconds before the song kicks back in with a jangly-pop guitar solo. Building back up from the guitar solo vocals are layered over each other in like a round of “Row Your Boat” until it crescendos into chaos and then breaks back into the chorus. The track is a wonderfully composed song that really shows off Sweet’s Kinks influence.
But Sweet has always been a great singles writer, it is the rest of the album that is a concern. I listen to a song like “My Ass is Grass” which features Sweet’s psychedelic vocals, acoustic guitar back bone, sparse bongo percussion, and overly loud electric lead guitar line. The track could not sound odder but yet Sweet somehow makes it sound poppy.
“My Ass Is Grass” is much more representative of the album. The album is reminiscent of the Beatles during their acid years; Sweet still has the power to write great pop songs but his primary goal is to show himself as a more experimental artist. Unfortunately, I think I would prefer more straight forward songs and less of the artsy for the sake of being artsy stuff.