CD Review of Sunshine Lies by Matthew Sweet
Recommended if you like
Byrds, Beatles, Beach Boys
Label
Shout Factory
Matthew Sweet:
Sunshine Lies

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

E
ver since first emerging in the fertile musical environs of Athens, Georgia – initially as a member of Oh-OK with Michael Stipe’s sister Lynda, and later at the helm of his own short-lived outfit, Buzz of Delight – Matthew Sweet’s made no secret of the fact he’s a retro revisionist at heart. That precept has infused each of his albums ever since, never more than on Under the Covers, a 2006 collaboration with the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs which took his‘60s sensibilities to their logical extreme. An apt tribute to his influences and inspirations, its song selection showed that Sweet’s music had indeed been nurtured by rock’s best and brightest.

It’s fitting, then, that Sunshine Lies, Sweet’s latest effort – and first since Under the Covers and his one-off collaboration with folk/rock supergroup the Thorns – should retain that ‘60s sheen. From its psychedelic intro – all backwards guitars and atmospheric ambiance – to the triumphant final fade of “Back of My Mind,” Sweet and his usual band of collaborators (Richard Lloyd, Ivan Julian, Greg Leisz, Ric Menck and, in a cameo reprise, Susanna Hoffs) create a vibrant, effusive imprint that radiates with pure Day-Glo delight. The affable cosmic sway of the aptly-titled “Time Machine” more or less sets the tone, offering an upbeat, upturned attitude bolstered by giddy instrumental accompaniment. Likewise, “Room to Rock” proves true to its title, a driving mesh of unhinged guitars and pure unabashed enthusiasm.  The majority of the songs that follow maintain that energized surge, whether it’s the edge and defiance of “Flying” or the stomp and surge of “Let’s Love.”

Matthew Sweet

Still, Sweet’s sound has always been…well, as sweet as his surname implies. In the midst of all the relentless riffing and compelling choruses, there’s a wistful melodic underbelly that ensures accessibility and a listener-friendly embrace. “Byrdgirl” provides one of the more obvious examples, not surprising considering the references implied in both its Byrdsy banner and jangly chime. The harmony-drenched “Around You Now,” the hushed vocals of “Feel Fear,” and the hazy celestial imprint of the title track (is that a sitar we hear wafting through the ether?) all affirm the fact that while Sweet’s music consistently bows to an earlier era, his emphasis is on keeping his hooks deft and defined.

Ultimately, Sweet’s set a high bar – not only in his attempts to emulate his revered forebears, but also in his own earlier efforts. Albums like Girlfriend, Altered Beast, 100% Fun and Blue Sky on Mars, the results of a creative roll that made him a cult hero throughout most of the ‘90s, have imbued each new effort with elevated expectations. Whether or not Sunshine Lies lives up to that anticipation may be up for discussion, but his pop prowess is as resilient as ever.

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