"Byrdgirl" by Matthew Sweet
Sometimes it's about trying something new, and sometimes it's about finding an old groove. When Matthew Sweet cut the 1991 album Girlfriend, he bundled his obsessions into tight, starry-eyed, dark-hearted songs that sounded forward-looking in spite of their debt to '60s pop. Much of the album's distinctive sound came from punk-era guitarists—Robert Quine and Television's Richard Lloyd—who dropped carefully implemented bits of chaos into songs brought to life by an assured band that included session ace Greg Leisz and drummer Ric Menck. Quine and Lloyd stuck around for two more almost-as-good albums, and Sweet never soared as high with subsequent lineups.
Sunshine Lies reunites that team in part for the second time this decade. (Lloyd, Leisz, and Menck previously rejoined Sweet for the little-heard 2003 album Kimi Ga Suki—originally a Japan-only release—and Quine's 2004 death then made a full reunion impossible.) Sunshine Lies doesn't quite capture the old flash, though it does bottle some of the lightning. Sweet's vocals sound strained at times, and some of his lyrics could use another pass. (For the worst instance of both, look to "Room To Rock," which finds Sweet doing his best Tom Petty impression.) But the best tracks are sure to please old fans. "Byrdgirl" has the guitar work and harmonies to back up its name, and the title track is an ambitious, Brian Wilson-inspired stunner. Consistent, it isn't, but Sunshine Lies has moments that make 2008 sound like 1995 trying to revive 1965 all over again.