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BRIAN WILSON
Gettin' In Over My Head
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by Dan Grunebaum

Matthew Sweet

The American singer-songwriter follows up his thank-you-Japan album with two nights in Tokyo

Matthew Sweet

Ever since the rock documentary satire Spinal Tap ended with footage of the band last being sighted in Japan, being "Big in Japan" has been a music business in-joke. But few artists have sought to repay the compliment as Matthew Sweet did last year on his album Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu.

Released in Japan only by Avex subsidiary Cutting Edge, the album was, as the American singer-songwriter stated in his liner notes, "in gratitude for the many years of love and support you've sent my way." Recorded in January of 2002, it was remarkable in that, while the "Big in Japan" moniker is usually a sly way of saying an artist is commercially dead elsewhere, Sweet still commands a substantial following in his home country.

Complete with cover art by trendy contemporary artist Yoshitomo Nara (see The Agenda), Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu was in fact one of Sweet's best outings in years. The album brought Sweet back together with Television guitarist Richard Lloyd, who had worked together with him on his 1991 breakout album, Girlfriend, and its two successors.

Written and recorded over one week, the album sounded fresher than Sweet had for years, with 12 new songs filled with personal musings and the melodic interplay of Sweet's and Lloyd's guitars. The tight confines of the recording meant that Sweet was prevented from working his songs to death, giving them a livelier feel than other recent recordings.

A budding musician in high school in his native Lincoln, Nebraska, Sweet chose to attend the University of Georgia in 1983 because of its fertile music scene. Joining Lynda Stipe's band Oh-OK, he played with a series of bands before a demo made its way to Columbia Records, resulting in his signing a contract in 1985.

Velvet Crush

Sweet's 1986 debut, Inside, featured cameos by Anton Fier and Aimee Mann among others, but failed to make a commercial splash, despite critical acclaim. In 1988, Sweet was able to secure a new deal with A&M, releasing Earth in 1989 with contributions by guitarists Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine (Lou Reed).

Despite the excellent guitar work, the album failed to take off, and Sweet was once again left without a record contract in the middle of recording his third album. Undeterred, he sent a copy of the demo tracks to Zoo, which signed him and released the album as Girlfriend in 1991.

Also powered by Lloyd and Quine, Girlfriend began to take off on the strengths of its title track, and a crunchier sound that added alt-rock elements to Sweet's power pop songcraft. Going gold in 1992, Sweet decamped New York for LA, spending the rest of the decade as a steady draw on the rock club circuit, with other hits including "The Ugly Truth" off 1993's Altered Beast and "Sick of Myself" off 1995's 100% Fun.

Sweet then parted ways with Lloyd, and was unable to find success with 1997's Blue Sky on Mars or 1999's In Reverse. Notwithstanding, Sweet's blend of catchy, introspective songwriting and jangly guitars retains for him a strong cult following not only in Japan, but in North America and Europe as well. A new album is due out in September.

Accompanying Sweet is a band he has worked with extensively over the years. Sweet produced Velvet Crush's 1991 debut, In the Presence of Greatness, while Crush drummer Ric Menck worked with Sweet on Girlfriend and Kimi Ga Suki *Raifu. Velvet Crush also have a new album in hand, Stereo Blues, released on their Action Musik imprint.

Aug 21, 6pm, ¥6,500 (adv) Ebisu Liquid Room; Aug 23, 7pm, ¥6,500 (adv) Club Quattro. Tel: Creativeman 03-5466-0777.

credits: Creativeman


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