[Rating: 3 stars]
Matthew Sweet’s pop music credentials are impeccable and varied. He emerged from the fertile Athens, Georgia music scene, where he rubbed shoulders with R.E.M, and then went on to record a slew of critically acclaimed, ’60s-influenced, solo albums.
He’s also been part of The Thorns with Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge, released two CDs of well-chosen covers with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles, and even appeared with Hoffs in Ming Tea, a fictitious band from the 1960s, fronted by none other than Austin Powers. Sweet has also collaborated with the likes of Lloyd Cole and many others, and even scored something of a major hit with “Girlfriend.” For all of this activity, his music remains fairly unknown to most casual music fans.
On Modern Art, his first album since 2008, Sweet does not change things much from his previous solo albums, and why should he? Sweet still wears his love of ’60s pop on his sleeve. The first three tracks quickly establish the musical setting. “Oh, Oldendaze!” has a pre-Tommy-era Who feel; “Ivory Tower,” with drums supplied by Fred Armisen, recalls Revolver-era Beatles; and “She Walks The Night” shimmers with the jingle-jangle 12-string sound of The Byrds.
On the rest of the album however, Sweet spends more time on plaintive love songs that rarely delve into the psychedelic-pop sound for which he’s most known for. The truly beautiful love song “Baltimore” and the piano-based, lush, yet subtle “Sleeping,” which closes the album, are two superb examples. Although the album includes song titles such as “Late Nights With Power Pop” and “My Ass is Grass,” Modern Art stands as one of Sweet’s most mature works, displaying his unique gifts as a songwriter and musician.