Matthew Sweet | Catspaw | (Omnivore)
2 1/2 out of 5 stars
It has taken Matthew Sweet nearly 35 years as a solo act and 13 previous albums to forge the route he travels on Catspaw. These dozen tracks are all written, performed, produced and mixed by the talented and determined singer/songwriter with only longtime drummer Ric Menck’s assistance.
Most notable about these power pop performances though, is the lead guitar Sweet ostentatiously injects into every track. His six string playing, mixed up front, is loud, proud and the defining aspect of the songs. According to publicity notes, it’s something he’s particularly delighted with. He’s not shredding but rather twists his leads around, through and above the other instruments.
The potential disadvantage of being a solitary recording artist is that no one contributes an impartial voice. While that independent streak is well earned from a guy who has self-produced much of his previous work and generally is what every artist yearns for in terms of creative control, it also doesn’t allow for a sympathetic second opinion. That can be essential for tweaking good ideas into better ones or suggesting different approaches to crafting the music, some which the artist might not have considered.
Sweet’s insistence on his guitar taking the spotlight starts to wear thin by about the halfway point in these dozen tunes. The songwriting, taken individually, is generally strong and immediately recognizable as Mathew Sweet penned. But the production and approach is so similar on every track that the effect is diluted. Although he’s no Neil Young, Sweet is a reasonably talented guitarist. Yet by spotlighting his leads on everything, often fighting for attention with his own singing, the songs seem repetitious, resulting in diminishing returns as the album progresses.
Perhaps an outside influence would have rearranged the rocking “At a Loss” or reflective ballads “Drifting” (“The time fills with seasons/Our lives all the same”) and the melancholy “Best of Me” (“What if the best of me/isn’t good enough”), emphasizing diverse musical arrangements to define their melodic strengths.
And at least a few of these dozen tracks could have been left on the cutting room floor or retooled to unclutter them, letting the melodies shine through. The closing psychedelic “Parade of Lights,” where Sweet’s guitar is mixed so loud it nearly drowns out the Beatle-esque effects he’s trying to highlight, ends the project on a particularly frustrating note.
Matthew Sweet is a journeyman musician whose impressive resume speaks for itself. On the nearly solo Catspaw though, his insistence on being a one-man-band, seemingly dismissing input for songs and especially production, would benefit from other objective ears.