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Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet
In Reverse
(Volcano Records)

In Reverse is stronger -- and tougher -- than Sweet's offering of 1998, Blue Sky on Mars. Yet those who have found reason to regard his past work with reservation won't be swayed to let down their guard, as many of the elements that render Sweet a borderline annoying performer are present here. He often sounds like the kind of guy that Alanis Morissette dissed back in 1995, since he keeps his romantic gripes as vague as his luv tunes. He's corny enough to play bitter lyrics against his surname as if taking revenge on whoever named him: Were he christened Matthew Tincture-of-Iodine, he'd probably try to sound like Billy Ocean, just to be contrary. But that bitterness is the cool part. The problem is that Sweet's singing doesn't have the range to encompass the corresponding emotions, particularly on a ballad like the "Untitled." Those listeners convinced of his seductive touch, however, might fall for "Untitled" after all, ringed as it is with pretty steel guitar. Sweet sings close to the top of his voice throughout the album while limiting his guitar-solo space to only one real raveup, on "Split Personality" ("My memory is fine/And I don't believe I've met you"). From the edge of his clean, dry tenor comes "Write Your Own Song," a tune so intense and so catchy, it's a damn shame it's not about luv, but rather reviewers, or maybe a pal who put his foot in his mouth.

The big news here is supposed to be the album's Phil Spector/Brian Wilson instrumental density, including horns and harpsichords. The heavy textures help make the closing mini-opera "Thunderstorm" listenable right down to a bridge stolen from a Partridge Family oldie. The alternative intensity, however, comes from the way Sweet crams his melodies and abrasive guitars so closely together that the vaguest lyrics hammer down. "Millennium Blues," "If Time Permits," and "Future Shock" neatly connect the dots of the singer-songwriter's customary themes of time and the erosion of romance. It seems that what he needs is a flat-out bitch session, and In Reverse is almost it.

 
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