Golden Years 1991 - Girlfriend - Articles - Soundblab

Golden Years 1991 - Girlfriend

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Was 1991 the best year ever for music? The aim of Golden Years is to try and remember albums from previous years that may have been forgotten, but before we do that let’s look at some of the successful albums released in 1991. 

Nirvana released Nevermind and changed music forever; Pearl Jam released Ten and the grunge movement was in full flow. The godfather of grunge, Neil Young, released a live album with Crazy Horse which was as loud as any of his young pretenders could be. Then you had the Brits. Primal Scream unleashed Screamadelica. Teenage Fanclub hit their peak with Bandwagonesque

My Bloody Valentine put their mark on the year with Loveless and disappeared for two decades. REM went acoustic and left us gobsmacked with the beauty of Out of Time. U2 followed The Joshua Tree with something completely different in Achtung Baby

Then the loud boys proved they could release their own epics. Metallica took years to ever come close to matching the black album; it took even longer for Guns N' Roses to follow up their two double albums of Use Your Illusion. I could go on. I could mention Pixies (Trompe Le Monde); Julian Cope (Peggy Suicide); Blur (Leisure); Massive Attack (Blue Lines), Talk Talk (Laughing Stock); Soundgarden (BadMotorFinger); Crowded House (Woodface), and so on. 

There are so many more. To pick an album of the year is hard. To pick something that’s probably been forgotten is equally hard. But we will concentrate on the underdog. A man who was dropped by his record label, had his album rejected by others, broke up with his wife, and spent a year crafting an album originally entitled Nothing Lasts. Somehow, from there he released an album which sat alongside all the ones named above in best of lists. That album was Girlfriend and it was by Matthew Sweet.

The first two albums by Matthew Sweet sunk without trace. They appeared on some Hollywood soundtracks and were well received, but their sweet pop-lines were too light and maybe a little bit twee. Girlfriend wasn’t. It was the absolute definition of a power-pop album. Harmonies layered upon guitars with rock, country and heartache delivered throughout. It was dark and light, sour and (forgive me) sweet. It was pop perfection. 

The album's been compared to Big Star in style and that’s not far wrong. It opens with the delicious 'Divine Intervention'. A rush of vocals, feedback and then a slow swagger which gives way to a religiously toned guitar-pop number. 

'I’ve Been Waiting' is all harmony and pop. It was the follow-up single to the title track which, quite simply, is timeless. "I wanna love somebody/ I hear you need somebody to love" Sweet sings against a backdrop of guitars and drums. The song's momentum is infectious. It is a song for new relationships; it’s also a break-up song. "I’m never gonna set you free" - the closing line sounds almost creepy and stalkerish. 

This is a feeling which returns on the later track 'Winona'. It wasn’t written about Winona Ryder (apparently she likes it) but it sounds like the song her stalker would write. A slow-paced ballad both mournful and painful. If unrequited love ever had a definitive soundtrack, this would be on it. The closing line, "I feel alone", is repeated against a keening, almost country guitar. 

'Evangeline' is written about the comic book character. Sweet’s videos at the time had anime in them. It’s a crashingly loud pop number in the chorus and sparse in the verse. It’s as infectious as everything else on the album. 

There isn’t a weak track here. Some are dark and mournful ('You Don’t Love Me', 'Nothing Lasts') and some are sweet and joyful but shot with an undercurrent ('Looking at the Sun', 'Don’t Go', 'Thought I Knew You'). It’s a masterpiece. 

If you haven’t heard Girlfriend before then the easiest way to describe it is that a man has his heart broken, write songs to release his demons, but choses melodies which promise a brighter future. The band Sweet pulled around him were one of the reasons this worked. Richard Lloyd (Television), Lloyd Cole, Robert Quine (Lou Reed collaborator), and Greg Leisz provided stellar support to a voice that was just silken.

Matthew Sweet followed this with four more albums of excellent quality. Altered Beast was far darker (it even had a track called 'Someone to Pull the Trigger'). 100% Fun lived up its name. Blue Sky on Mars was another power-pop slice of brilliance, while In Reverse was more experimental. It’s only in recent years that the solo work has diminished. 

He now collaborates with Susanna Hoffs for the Under the Covers series and occasionally sells his pottery. However, this album was a treat. Rarely has guitar-driven pop sounded as good as this. 1991 delivered some excellent albums; this was one of the best.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet