Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Review: Matthew Sweet's 'Girlfriend' Vinyl Reissue on Intervention Records

The threshold between the last gasps of hair metal and the grunge revolution, 1991 saw a record not so easy to categorize as Mane Attraction or Nevermind. While Matthew Sweet was very much a rock and roll artist, his music existed states away from metal or grunge. 

Although he could jangle like R.E.M., Sweet's upfront, unapologetically traditional pop approach didn't scream college rock. You could easily spot the influences in Sweet's music--The Beatles, Stones, The Byrds (with and without Parsons), The Beach Boys, and just about every other sixties band that kept the hooks and the power right up front. Yet his vision was much more personal than that of a self-consciously retro band like, say, The Black Crowes'.  He never felt like a covers band who just happened to play his own songs. Matthew Sweet sang of private romantic pain, wrestling with the reality of a godless world, and the tearing pain of burying a loved one. The arrangements and production aesthetics may have come from circa-'66 heroes, but the raw feelings embedded in the material and performances clearly came straight from present day Sweet. Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine's gnarly guitar leads--more Neil Young than George Harrison--also pack an emotional wallop. "I've Been Waiting", "I Wanted to Tell You", "Holy War", "Don't Go", "Thought I Knew You", "Divine Intervention", the title track, and the rest would be extraordinary sounding pop songs no matter where they came from, but it is that real emotion behind them that makes Girlfriend such an extraordinary album. 

Matthew Sweet's devotion to the aesthetics of sixties record making went so far that he waved off digital recording techniques to craft an analog record the way they used to do it. His disdain for modern tech was so strong that he even inserted the sounds of a needle dropping on and pulling off vinyl between certain tracks on the CD to indicate where a side would end or begin. But you won't hear those on Intervention Records' spectacular 100% analog vinyl edition of Girlfriend

Originally released in 2018, Intervention's Girlfriend is incredibly present and warm with the kind of soundstage you usually only hear coming from an actual stage. Bass is deep but never overpowering or headache-inducing. Highs cut through without any unintended distortion. Because it doesn't have those faux needle drops, the between-track spaces on this record are actually quieter than those on the CD. How's that for some nineties-style irony?

If there's a CD-age album that was always meant for vinyl, it is Girlfriend. And other editions simply will not do. Since compact disc was this record's main medium in '91, a lot of fans don't even realize that its final three tracks were actually CD bonuses. So other original vinyl editions of Girlfriend do not include the searingly righteous "Holy War", the tongue-in-cheek lascivious "Does She Talk?", or the stark and beautiful "Nothing Last", a more perfectly final finale than "Your Sweet Voice". Intervention's double-LP reinstates these essential CD bonuses on vinyl Side C and rounds out the fourth side with three appealingly rough yet somewhat lazy demos of the title track (as "Good Friend"), the future No Alternative comp opener "Superdeformed", and the otherwise unproduced "Teenage Female", which had all originally appeared on 1991's Girlfriend: The Superdeformed EP.

Probably because Girlfriend is Matthew Sweet's most popular album, I was never able to get ahold of a copy for review when Intervention was reissuing the artist's early-nineties catalog four years ago and I was reviewing the ones I could getGirlfriend has gone in and out of print a couple of times since then and is back in stock now, hence this better-late-than-never review. Get it while you can.

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