Matthew Sweet may well be an influence on the likes of someone like Freedy Johnston, who began making records six years after Sweet's debut, but the similarities between the two men extend only to the music--a rich, well-constructed, indestructible sound. With ex-Television guitarist Richard Lloyd and former Lou Reed compatriot Robert Quine behind him, Sweet has, since Girlfriend in 1992, created the greatest sounding albums, driven by catchy melodies, inspired guitar riffs, and sweeter-than-saccharine harmonies. But Sweet simply does not possess the narrative skills of Johnston, whose sharply crafted first-person vignettes draw in the listener like the best-told fiction.
Sweet may be a master craftsman when it comes to melody and execution, but at best he's a modest lyricist--the kind of guy who talks at you, through you, but never actually to you. Each song on 100% Fun (which will be released March 14, the day of his local appearance) is sung to someone, almost always a lover who's on her way in or out of the singer's life (the singer being Sweet or that indefinable narrator songwriters always hide behind). Sweet is the purest sort of pop songwriter, whose music is driven by the love of a good woman and the sadness and madness that come when the relationship goes bust.
The very first line of the album sets the tone ("You don't know how to move me") and careens toward the "Smog Moon" (that is "wavering and burning like a golden lie") that closes things out; in between are profound revelations ("You can't stomach the truth / And I tell only lies") and the clichd couplets ("I don't have to speak / And you know what I'm thinking") that have always defined the best and worst pop music that pretends to reveal all but ultimately proffers shallow insight. Which is what makes Matthew Sweet so interesting and frustrating all at once: 100% Fun is the kind of album filled with insistent and even beautiful melodies that could play forever in the background, but finally it is like a puddle that looks deep from faraway, only once you jump into it, you barely even get your shoes wet.
Matthew Sweet performs March 14 at Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth.