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Matthew Sweet - Blue Sky on Mars/In Reverse

  by Adrian Janes

published: 14 / 1 / 2019

Matthew Sweet - Blue Sky on Mars/In Reverse
Label: Floating World Records
Format: CD


Reissued brace of underrated late 90's albums by American singer and guitarist Matthew Sweet offers both power and pop

In the late 1990s Matthew Sweet’s career, which had achieved real critical and commercial impact earlier in the decade through the album ‘Girlfriend’, was in something of a decline. Commercially, this was signified by the simple fact that these two albums, now available as a package, failed to achieve the sales of ‘Girlfriend’ and its successors, ‘Altered Beast’ and ‘100% Fun’. Musically, the outstanding guitarists Robert Quine (ex-Voidoids) and Richard Lloyd (ex-Television), who had made important contributions to the earlier records, were no longer involved. Indeed, in terms of personnel ‘Blue Sky on Mars’ from 1997 is a fairly stripped-down affair, most of the playing being done by Sweet himself (a strong guitarist in his own right) and producer Brendan O’Brien. A new addition to the sound was synths (largely played by O’Brien), but synths in a rock context, rather than turning Sweet in the direction of electronica. What remains constant is Sweet’s ability to pen a tuneful song which more often than not also rocks. It’s this latter quality, the sheer fervour of his playing and the impact of the drums, that makes his frequent categorisation as power pop somewhat misleading. Perhaps the real truth of it lies in his relentlessly mellifluous vocals – it’s as if all the grit and pain that could give his voice more character is channelled into his guitar. Over the course of a whole album this aspect becomes somewhat cloying, even as the music on tracks such as ‘Back to You’ seems to demand a rawer kind of singer. At any rate, despite this reservation, ‘Blue Sky on Mars’ is a good collection of highly melodic, well-crafted songs that certainly deserves a better response than it evidently got in an era dominated by Britpop and club culture. From a tight-knit group, 1999’s ‘In Reverse’ moved on several tracks to a much larger sound with a cast of musicians to match, featuring massed ranks of guitarists and session luminaries like bassist Carol Kaye and drummers Fred Maher and Jim Keltner. It’s an album where Sweet gloriously draws together all kinds of pop and rock influences: the cavernous Sixties sound of the beautiful ‘Time Permits’; the sinuous, Hendrix-like backwards guitar that begins ‘Beware My Love’; unusual instrumentation, like the brass and electric harpsichord on ‘Worse to Live’; and the echoes of the Beatles and the Byrds scattered throughout. The ambitiousness reaches its zenith on the album’s impressive closer, ‘Thunderstorm’, over nine minutes long and formed out of what was originally four separate songs. Any misgivings about the strength of Sweet’s voice are largely overcome. Though there is some continuity of style with ‘Blue Sky on Mars’, on the best-realised songs it’s buttressed here to satisfying effect by multi-tracking and generous use of reverb, evoking at various points not just the bands already mentioned but Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Beach Boys as well. It’s a little disappointing to note that much of Sweet’s success in recent times has been down to the three albums of covers he’s made with Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles. He’s long been a prolific and accomplished songwriter and musician himself, and if a few of the tracks on these two entirely self-penned albums have a certain bland sheen, they’re certainly outnumbered by the more vital ones. Hopefully their renewed availability will reverse the public’s original verdict.

Track Listing:-
1 Come to California
2 Back To You
3 Where You Get Love
4 Hollow
5 Behind the Smile
6 Until You Break
7 Over It
8 Heaven And Earth
9 All Over My Head
10 Into Your Drug
11 Make Believe
12 Missing Time

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Engaging tenth solo album from acclaimed singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet, which after some stuttering recent years, proves to be a partial return to some of the glories of his past

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