The American singer-songwriter follows up his thank-you-Japan
album with two nights in Tokyo
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
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.
with METROPOLIS readers at http://forum.japantoday.com