Year of the Album — #061
Matthew Sweet – “Modern Art” (2011, Missing Piece)
I enjoy my Matthew Sweet music in much the same way I was enamored with the songwriting of Semisonic’s Dan Wilson. Both men recorded power pop music in the nineties and were unafraid to push the envelope sonically, regardless of what that might have meant for their eventual long-term success. Sweet, in particular, has built his career by uncompromisingly chasing his own unique muse, making music his own way. For that, I’m certain there are many who would follow his music to the ends of the earth.
His eleventh studio album, Modern Art, continues in that same vein. The album, due out September 27th, lives up to its name through the number of twists and turns the music takes en route to its eventual destination. This is not music that will be easily digestable for those unschooled in what Matthew Sweet’s music has become post-Girlfriend, but for those who take the plunge, this is pop music of the most original, invigorating kind. From the opening strains of “Oh, Oldendaze,” which channels Gary Jules as much as it does the music of the Byrds, it’s clear Matthew Sweet is back doing what he does best.
But he’s not afraid to jerk the wheel, so to speak. “She Walks The Night” opens with thirty seconds of experimental electronic sounds, drum patter and synths running wild, only to morph into a sunny pop melody which fits in as well with the sixties-era pop it emulates as it does with the many purveyors of similar music this decade, Fountains of Wayne and that ilk. Midway through the track he again removes the pop sheen and lets the confusion of the early moments return, only to then allow us another return to the gloss of the hook. It’s a confusing experiment, and it is sure to disorient casual listeners who may not stick around to play along. But the song works just the same, and it proves Sweet knows what he’s doing as he tinkers with the workings of pop’s winning formula.
As a whole, Modern Art is a winning example of modern pop experimentation done by a master of the craft. These are songs for songwriters to pore over in the hopes that someday they might emulate Sweet in the same way he breaks down sixties power-pop and rebuilds it to be his own. This is definitely a slow-burning keeper. What more can you ask for as a music fan?