Matthew Sweet’s success is unconventional for an artist who found his audience in the ‘90s, gained by sticking to a timeless strand of confessional power pop and rock music while others scrambled to take up the resounding call of Nirvana’s game-changing 1991 album “Nevermind.”
Sweet’s third album “Girlfriend” followed in October that year. The album remains a fixture at rock radio thanks to the caffeinated charge of its title track and the lovesick ode to comic book character and deadly vigilante-nun “Evangeline.” Deeper examination of the whole collection reveals “Girlfriend” as the classic breakup album, wherein Sweet poured all of his emotional pain following a divorce. Asked whether he’d be able to write songs just a powerful without such a devastating catalyst, Sweet told Entertainment Weekly, “I’m sure I’ll be just as depressed at some other point in my life.”
Although the success of the “Girlfriend” album hasn’t been duplicated in the 25 years since its release, Sweet has found inspiration both positive and negative for a flood of other great tunes. The title of 1995’s “100% Fun” was lifted from Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, and the album’s single “Sick of Myself” was a disarmingly charming rocker with a hook reminiscent of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Do Ya.”
Sweet made sidesteps into winsome alt-country with The Thorns, and has a series of lovingly crafted “Under the Covers” albums with Bangles frontwoman Susanna Hoffs. His last solo album was 2011’s “Modern Art.” Songs like the heartsick nostalgia of “Oh, Oldendaze!” and chiming psych-pop of “She Walks the Night” drew from Sweet’s classic template of Big Star, the Byrds and the Beatles, with Beach Boys-inspired vocal harmonies.
Sweet arrives at Park West with longtime sideman, local hero and veteran Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck in tow. With luck, the set list may include a preview of songs from Sweet’s forthcoming album “Tomorrow Forever.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.