We take two of the week’s recent releases in music and pit them one-on-one in this week’s Album WAR!
This week, an alt-’90s darling takes on an alt-darling that wasn’t alive for most of the ’90s as Matthew Sweet’s “Tomorrow Forever” battles Lorde’s “Melodrama“
It is always a dicey subject when you’re reviewing something that you really want to like. Despite the potential for the precipitous letdown, it’s all the more a relief when the piece in question turns out being really freaking good.
Such is the case for ‘90s indie darling, Matthew Sweet, and his latest release, Tomorrow Forever. It’s mindblowing that such a seminal and accomplished artist had to turn to Kickstarter to fund this album. Hook or by crook, it’s here; and that’s all that matters.
Sweet is no stranger to shimmery psychedelic pop. In fact, Sweet’s been one of the unsung stalwarts of the art form, quietly holding down the fort where facsimile trends came and went over the years. There’s a reason “Girlfriend” is just as enjoyable today as it was when it was released well over twenty years ago.
Opening with a tightly wound “Trick”, Sweet immediately reminds his listeners just how easy he makes indie pop rock compositions. As with the rest of the album, there is little, if any, over-working or songs that dare risk overstaying their welcome. Something akin to a jazz performer, Sweet’s talent is in his ability to know what not to add.
One noticeable addition is a pinch of alt-country, that Ryan Adams, early-Wilco era electric slide guitar and occasional freewheeling organ. It plays well on Tomorrow Forever without overtaking the focus, even with the on-the-nose “Country Girl”. Ironically, the sharp tongued “Off the Farm” is a red herring to this end, opting to instead play up its title as a euphemism for someone whose rationale or actions have led them astray.
The influences of the likes of Beach Boys and Byrds run heavy across tracks like the beautifully laconic and psychedelic “Haunted”. Its needled chord progression, patient and understated timekeeping and Lennon-esque sleepy lyrics just drips Beatles from every pore.
But with Tomorrow Forever, that sunshine is measured with the anxiety of an uncertain future- a Tomorrow that stretches out for Forever. While Sweet acknowledges the passage of time and the transience of all things loved and feared, he does so with a fearless optimism that makes his psychedelic offers all the more substantial throughout. Sweet warbles on “Entangled”, “There’s no telling what you’ll see, who you’ll be when you get to the other side.” He offers his cosmic sagacity on the subject, “Follow time as it flows both ways, dream it in another direction. The universe is all around you, even in another dimension.”
This thesis of acceptance and a willing invitation of the unknown, that Tomorrow forever, is best exemplified in the wonderfully affirmative lyrics in “Nobody Knows” “Walk straight into the light where nobody knows, nobody sees. / I get a lot out of love without caring what it costs, it’s never going away when you suffer such a loss. / I put a lot into love, it’s a catch and release and a beauty overcoming the beast. There’s a way to hold on but eventually we can let go.”
Standout Track: “Come Correct” A wonderfully acerbic diatribe on hustlers, wasters, loser, hucksters, charlatans, and hangers-on that better “come correct before I go insane…” A sharp tune with some funky wah-wah action to boot.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The problem with releasing your latest work in the same manner as major summer blockbusters is that, like the action-laden trailers of those cinematic counterparts, all those catchy singles that have been hyping what is to come feel wooden and also-ran by the time that actual product releases in full.
Lorde’s much anticipated new release, Melodrama, suffers much the same fate. The Jagged Little Pill Alanis Morrisette-reminiscent “Greenlight” is still a powerfully infective standout track and a great way to set the tone for the album, but some of that luster is already lost by the time we hear it on Melodrama after already being treated to it on SNL performances, music award shows, and as Itunes and Spotify singles for months in advance. Had this opened the album as the anonymous sleeper hit it could have been, had those swelling gospel choruses rose completely out of nowhere, it would have served to strengthen the whole.
Every artist should be afforded comparison measured only against themselves but such is the crowded field that they toil. Where other alt-pop singers and performers have made strides to step outside of their comfort zones to mixed results, Lorde rarely attempts to recreate the wheel on Melodrama. While this plays well with the earmarked singles and the beautifully fragile ballad “Liability”, other tracks like “Sober” and “Louvre” aim small and stay there, even traipsing dangerously close to Norah Jones coffeeshop territory.
There is some invention found in “Hard Feelings/Loveless” specifically, the Loveless portion that fades in as a two minute final tag that has retro ‘90s dance preciousness to it. The same can be said for the reprise found in “Sober II (Melodrama)” which really opens the wide expanse Lorde can travel while only plunking a few quiet notes on the piano.
The bitter fruit of this same merit of invention results in studio influence and post engineering after the fact as is the case in “Writer in the Dark”. The track is a really exceptional piece that stands tall on its own but there are so many apparent dial turns and loops and last-minute reverb swells that it’s hard to tell where Lorde ends and her engineer begins.
It’s not until Melodrama’s final track “Perfect Places” that Lorde finally clicks it all into place and presents a fully realized landscape. The rising choruses, the persistent and crystal-clean piano leads, with steady dance beat and synthesizer offering fuzzy muscle where needed are a fantastic showcase of Lorde’s appeal and excellence. A pity it shows up so late to the party.
Standout Track: “Homemade Dynamite” By far, this is an instantly sing-along radio hit that is going to be playing everywhere this summer. Thankfully, it’s a really good song too. Sometimes those two factors can be mutually exclusive.
Rating: 2 ¾ out of 5
Winner of the Week: Matthew Sweet (Tomorrow Forever)
A surprise release from one of the countless ‘90’s underrated artist that are incalculably influential to a host of better known current artists, Tomorrow Forever holds its own and never rests of its laurels. Instead, Sweet offers his trademark indie-pop psych credentials while offering a sobering examination of the unknown and facing that uncertainty with a rebellious sense of optimism.