Matthew Sweet – In Reverse

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

The daunting list of musicians on singer / songwriter Matthew Sweet’s latest album would make even Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis stop and take note: five guitarists (two electric, three acoustic), three keyboard players, two bassists, two drummers, two percussionists, two horn players and a theremin player!

This formidable band was collected together to record four of this album’s 14 tracks, using the “wall of sound” approach pioneered by the legendary Phil Spector. Matthew Sweet is obviously a bit of a workaholic: he recorded a whopping 150 songs from which he selected this lucky few. Alongside old collaborators like Fred Maher (drums) and Greg Leisz (guitars), Sweet has drafted in Carol Kaye, the lady who played bass on The Beach Boys’ seminal “Pet Sounds”.

Unsurprisingly, there are some very “Pet Sounds” moments – HIDE, in particular, sounds like a Brian Wilson piano ballad – while other tracks resemble Bob Mould’s Sugar (WHAT MATTERS), Cast (FAITH IN YOU) and even seventies prog rockers Toto (IF TIME PERMITS). Sweet’s voice is well suited to this style of country-rock, although his high-pitched balladeering can wear a bit thin: WORSE TO LIVE sounds like The Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love?”.

The words cover a number of topics – MILLENNIUM BLUES addresses the fact that Sweet’s lifespan will be bisected by the passing of the Year 2000, giving him pre- and post- millennium halves and signalling that the first half of his life will soon be over. WRITE YOUR OWN SONG, meanwhile, is pretty much as its name suggests – a challenge to any detractors to try and do better.

The album culminates in the nine-and-a-half-minute epic THUNDERSTORM, which is actually an amalgam of four separate compositions. It closes proceedings in a flurry of Sgt Pepperesque strings and drums. Despite its obvious ambition and Sweet’s talent, IN REVERSE just has something missing. None of the songs are particularly memorable and, although THUNDERSTORM does have some decent moments, it lacks direction and impact. There’s nothing bad here, but it could have been so much better.

3 stars