Music Reviews
Modern Art

Matthew Sweet Modern Art

(Missing Piece) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Matthew Sweet’s Sunshine Lies  was an uneven album that thudded where it should have bounced. Modern Art is a return to form, more balanced in the mix of songcraft, experimentation, and musicianship.

Oh, Oldendaze sets the thematic tone for the record, a reflection on nostalgia’s deceit, where Sweet points out that memories never stand the test of time. This concern about the passage of time adds gravitas to a ballad like When Love Let’s Go I’m Falling and restlessness to the tubthumping blues of Ladyfingers.

She Walks The Night is a good choice for first single, opening with a wall of dissonance that leads to a chiming paean to beauty. There is more Byrdsian richness in songs like Baltimore and Sleeping, while December Dark could have easily fitted on Big Star’s #1 Record. Less successful is Late Nights With The Power Pop, whose lyrics seem to collect every ready-made cliché of the Eighties and ends with a Bic-lighter, all-together-now chorus. 

On the positive, there’s a willingness to explore new musical vistas. Ivory Tower sounds like good Seventies prog rock, with jazzy drums and spaced-out guitar licks. My Ass Is Grass has an Eastern feel with bongo and maraca polyrhythms. A Little Death has a great guitar and bass interaction before the drums kick in.  The core musicians for the album are Sweet, drummer Ric Menck from Velvet Crush, and guitarist Dennis Taylor, whose style calls to mind the keening lead lines of Richard Lloyd and the late Robert Quine.

The ballads all have the emotional depth and wistful vocals we expect from Sweet. The title song weaves concert piano, organ, and soaring harmonies, recalling Brian Wilson in his Smile period. It’s the album’s highest musical point and its most sublime moment.

One might draw a singular conclusion from this batch of songs about memories, past joys, and regrets: namely, Sweet’s willingness to keep moving forward. Modern Art doesn’t have the pure pop exuberance of Girlfriend, but it proves to be a welcome addition to a distinguished body of work.