STORY WRITTEN BY ED CONDRAN
For Digital First Media
It’s hard to believe it’s been a quarter century since Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend” broke. Some albums released in 1991 were more celebrated, such as Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Pearl Jam’s “Ten.” But Sweet’s “Girlfriend” is just as enduring as the grunge blockbusters.
Sweet’s third album of exceptional guitar-driven songs is as fresh as it was back when alt-rock burst the hair metal bubble. The eclectic album offers the infectious “Evangeline,” the breezy country rock of “Winona” and the poignant and earnest “I’ve Been Waiting.”
The well constructed love songs appealed to females and the guitar solos appeased the fellows. “Who would ever guess that the album would break like it did,” Sweet said during a telephone interview.
A&M dropped Sweet after the release of his second album, 1989’s “Earth” and he signed with Zoo Entertainment, which took a chance on him as he worked on “Girlfriend.”
“I was living in Princeton, New Jersey when I was writing the songs for “Girlfriend,” Sweet said. “My marriage was ending and my ex-wife moved to New York. I met a new girl, who became my girlfriend.”
So that explains how the songs are split in terms of mood. “You get the full gamut with “Girlfriend,” Sweet said.
Sweet is a genuinely nice guy, who is a heartland stereotype. Sweet, who was born and raised in Nebraska, has always been over the top polite. After showcasing “Girlfriend” at the late, lamented Chestnut Cabaret in 1992, Sweet spent a solid 20-minutes glad-handing fans post-show.
“Those were great days,” Sweet said. “I had so much fun during that period. How could you not enjoy that? It’s great when people are interested in your music.”
But there’s much more to Sweet than “Girlfriend.”
1993’s “Altered Beast” is erratic but 1995’s “100 Percent Fun” is full of hook-laden gems, such as “Sick of Myself” and “Not When I Need It.”
1999’s “In Reverse,” 2008’s “Sunshine Lies’ and 2011’s “Modern Art” are among Sweet’s many solid albums.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to make music for all of these years,” Sweet said. “It’s been a long time since I started.”
It’s been 30 years since Columbia released Sweet’s underheralded debut “Inside.” “I’ve been through it all with major labels and independent labels and I’m still doing it,” Sweet said.
Sweet enjoys playing the hits from throughout his consistent career. “I enjoy playing those songs that were embraced by fans,” Sweet said. “It’s never gotten to a point in which I’m tired of those songs. I hear about how some recording artists get tired of playing those songs. What’s great is that people want to hear certain songs and it’s fun for me to play those songs.”
Not a surprising answer from one of rock’s genuine nice guys, who has never been a surly interview subject or been less than kind under the lights.
“I get to be a musician for a living,” Sweet said. “What is there to be upset about? I get to play my music and I like to look back at the older songs.”
When Sweet was working on “Girlfriend” he was looking back in another manner. He hoped to use a vintage photo of reclusive actress Tuesday Weld, who was reluctant to give Sweet permission for the cover of “Girlfriend” “She finally gave us permission,” Sweet said. “I was into collecting memorabilia from actresses like Kim Novak. It was very cool that I was able to get her approval. That was the finishing touch. All these years later, everything still stands from “Girlfriend.” That’s an amazing thing.”