CD Reviews of Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet

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starstarstarstarstar Label: Zoo Records
Released: 1991
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Having released two unspectacular records in 1986’s Inside and 1989’s Earth, no one could have seen the absolute masterpiece of Girlfriend coming. Working with essentially the same richly talented group from the Earth record, Sweet, Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck, Television guitarist Richard Lloyd, songwriter/guitarist Lloyd Cole, Richard Hell & the Voidoids guitarist Robert Quine and ex-Material and Scritti Politti drummer Fred Maher contributed in various combinations to the best power pop alternative record of the ‘90s. Mixing Sweet’s exquisite pop songwriting with Quine and Lloyd’s ripping guitar solos (though not on the same song) and Sweet’s saccharine layered vocals, Girlfriend contained more hooks than an Ali-Frazier fight. The album not only featured that Big Star/Raspberries huge pop sound but also blended the pedal steel guitar playing of Greg Liesz for the country flavored balladry of “Winona” and “You Don’t Love Me.”

Set against absolute brilliant guitar playing, Sweet’s lyrics thematically are constantly searching. He is looking for answers, for love and “Divine Intervention”. He continuously asks questions. In “Winona,” against the swirling steel pedal guitar work of Liesz, he asks:

Could you be my little movie star?
Could you be my long lost girl?
It’s true that I don’t really know you
But I’m alone in this world

During the title track he wonders:

Don’t you need to
Be back in the arms of a good friend?
Oh ‘cause honey believe me
I would sure love to call you my girlfriend

In “Looking at the Sun”, Sweet wonders:

Do you really want to run away with me?
I can feel very clearly but no longer see
Oh, looking at the sun
Waiting for you to appear

During almost every chorus, Maher’s production features layers of Sweet’s voice harmonizing in a Beatlesque manner. The mix is perfect. Each instrument, each note is crystal clear and the sound is retro in an analogue mix and shares a kindred spirit with the Lenny Kravitz style of sound and recording. The contrast of the harmonies and crunchy rhythm guitars against the distinctive solos of Quine and Lloyd create a beautiful contrast that fuels this power pop machine. The initial crackle of a turntable needle setting down on vinyl can be heard for several seconds before the guitar intro of “Day for Night” (for you kids out there, prior to CDs, popular music used to be packaged in a format known as full length albums – flat circular surfaces about 12 inches in diameter that contained music on each side). The sound of a turntable skipping at the end of an album side can be heard at the conclusion of “Your Sweet Voice” as a continued nod to that old school sound.

If you have a convertible and a warm summer night with a comfortable breeze blowing, “Girlfriend,” “Evangeline” and “I Wanted to Tell You” are perfect songs to test the gas pedal and fly down an interstate blasting the stereo as loud as it can go. Despite the fact that this record was made some 15 years ago, each guitar riff sounds as absolutely fresh today as it did then. If you don’t own a copy of Girlfriend, you should go grab this absolute masterpiece in power pop.

~R. David Smola