Thirty-two years ago this week, one of the best albums of all time dropped. Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend has been called "fuzzy power pop perfection" by Paste Magazine, and I wholeheartedly agree. I fell deeply down the Matthew Sweet hole when I first heard Girlfriend, and was lucky enough to see him several times in various clubs in Albuquerque and New Mexico in the early 1990s. Girlfriend was and remains one of my favorite albums—I never tire of it!
Flipping through his Filofax, he called up Television vocalist/guitarist Richard Lloyd and session ace and former Voidoid guitarist Robert Quine. Pedal steel virtuoso Greg Leisz also joined them, as did drummers Fred Maher and Ric Menck (plus guitarist Lloyd Cole, who was living in New York and starting his solo career). Sweet wisely encouraged his stellar cohorts to sound exactly like themselves, and they all turn in stunning performances (especially Quine and Lloyd). This decision, combined with a significant leap forward in Sweet's songwriting, allowed the LP to soar far above his two previous efforts.
Pop Matters goes on to describe the production and the tracks, which they posit are "definitive examples of power-pop":
. . . "Girlfriend" (the track) is a neat summation of the entire project. Sweet slashes through the guitar chords while Maher provides solid, unfussy percussion, and Quine adds his unique, fauvist guitar approach. The vocals and guitars are mixed loudly, and harmony vocals add detail to a robust and insistent tune. It even gave him a Top 5 single on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
Finally, Sweet had found his voice.
Aurally, Girlfriend is as dry as a bone. Reverb is off-limits, and the mixing is straight out of the "Beatles in Stereo" book. Instruments and voices are hard-panned to the left or right, resulting in the listener being placed in the center of the performances. The studio credo was "first take = best take", which added to the songs' raw feel. Both Sweet and Quine were working through their demons during the sessions; specifically, Sweet was coping with the breakdown of his marriage and the pressure on him to remain a working musician, whereas Quine was dealing with numerous mental health issues. Both musicians channeled their angst into the recordings, ensuring that Sweet's perfectly conceived pop compositions had a harsh, jagged edge. Yin and Yang.
The tracks are as varied as a truck stop jukebox, but they all hang together beautifully. For instance, "Girlfriend", "Holy War", and "Does She Talk?" are tight and aggressive rockers. On the other hand, "Nothing Lasts" and "Winona" are plaintive ballads, just as "I Wanted to Tell You" and "I've Been Waiting" are definitive examples of power-pop. Sweet combines all the elements of that often-derided genre in the latter piece, creating something that can hold its head high next to "September Gurls" and "I Feel Fine". From Sweet's ringing arpeggios to Richard Lloyd's short but stinging solo (via a vocal melody that's so perfect and timeless), it'll have you fruitlessly working through your record collection looking for its antecedents. It's become the benchmark for guitar pop.
You should take some time today and listen to the whole album. And also enjoy this great short set—which includes two of the best songs from the album, "Girlfriend" and "I've Been Waiting"—from April, 1992. Just skip ahead 40 seconds so you don't have to see or hear Dennis Miller.