In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s the kind of album that by about track three, I was online, looking for a vinyl copy… Because I’m pretentious that way.”
In a Gateways to Geekery article, The A.V Club asked, what is the best power pop record of the 90s? The answer to their own question, “Matthew Sweet’s 1991 opus Girlfriend, which helped introduce the grunge generation to sparkle and coo.” I would have been 10 or 11 when it came out, so I’m sure I had no knowledge of it at the time, but it’s a record that seems to still get talked about and get plenty of love amongst the kinds of pop culture analysis I constantly consume (ie, The A.V Club). I was 30 or 31 when Sweet did the rounds celebrating Girlfriend’s 20th anniversary five years ago, so I was pretty aware of that. Aware enough that it made me want to listen to the record. Lazy enough that I didn’t do it until today.
The slightly country tinged guitar twang of Divine Intervention reminds me a lot of what would be Wilco’s bread and butter just a few years later. I know Matthew Sweet is successful and has a decent following, but hearing this song, and thinking about how huge Wilco are these days, I feel like Sweet was just a little ahead of his time. That slight country rock attitude morphs into guitar pop melody perfection with I’ve Been Waiting.
According to Wikipedia, the titular track was a top 10 hit, so this record was definitely a success. But just three tracks in, and I feel like this record should be more revered today than it is. The rockier, guitar shredding energy of Girlfriend also shows how versatile Sweet is as a songwriter. These are the kinds of songs that would sound great with just an acoustic guitar or piano, giving Sweet the advantage of being able to choose any genre to arrange them in.
The country sensibility returns with the pedal steel fuelled mournfulness of Winona. With a recurring refrain of “I’m alone in the world”, it’s a jarring touch of heart on its sleave confessional, after an opening suite of pop energy and hummable melodies. It’s also a jarring change in direction that keeps Girlfriend so captivating.
The drive of Thought I Knew You makes it sounds so much bigger than its sparse ingredients of acoustic guitar, mandolin and Sweet’s vocals would suggest. While he accomplishes the opposite with the deliberate emptiness of You Don’t Love Me. There may be a full band on this one, but they leave plenty of room and air for the song to breathe.
I’m not sure how much 90s power pop I’ve listened to in my time. Definitely not enough to be anywhere near an authority on the matter. But now that I’ve listened to Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, I’m pretty sure The A.V Club got it right when they declared it the best of the genre. It’s the kind of album that by about track three, I was online, looking for a vinyl copy… Because I’m pretentious that way.