Matthew Sweet Tangents

Does Matthew Sweet deliberately think to himself, “Okay, you’ve got a couple of rather unhappy dark songs, so make sure you give them the catchiest, happiest melodies you’ve got”?

Sick Of Myself (which, of course, is the ideal song to begin an album called 100% Fun with) is exuberant and rollicking from the get-go. It’s a song for convertibles, and the wind in your hair, and turning the volume up on the car stereo, and even as you sing “But I’m sick of myself, when I look at you” you can’t help but bob your head. There’s that playful, percussive guitar which starts it off, and there are those multiple false endings, and the entire song does actually sound like lots of fun, as long as you don’t listen to the words. I could go on and on about it, but I did a little digging and found someone else who loves it as much as I do and wrote about it better.

The dark songs on Altered Beast are, at least, in a minor key, but I still find myself swaying and smiling and singing along with gusto because they’re just so thoroughly pleasant.

Devil With The Green Eyes starts off like a lightweight 80’s big-haired rock ballad, with the sort of keening guitar feedback you expect from November Rain or a song by the Scorpions. But then the drums and harmonied vocals kick in, and you think the intro was meant to throw you off. But then he’s singing “The devil with the green eyes said you were never meant to be mine/’cause I came up from a dark world and every love I’ve ever known is dead/if you come close enough to see I am inhuman, I will tell you why you’re feeling so uncertain/Every word I say has a way of turning evil in you”.

And then of course there’s Someone To Pull The Trigger, where he sings “Well I’m waiting and willing/The clarity is chilling/But I’m not turning back/And neither can you/I need someone to pull the trigger…so if you’re what I think you’ll be/if you’re who I think I see – shoot”, and the quietly jangly country-laced guitars sing along.

This intrigues me because it makes me wonder about the songwriting process. I guess different people have different ways of doing it, but I always thought that whichever came first (melody or lyrics), the writer then tries to make the other components of the song suit what he’s already got. So both the lyrics and the music of Good Vibrations convey exactly that. And everything in You Oughtta Know echoes “And when I scratch my nails down someone else’s back I hope you feel it”. And She Don’t Use Jelly is as silly and lovely and weird as you’d expect it to be.

But then for each example I think of there, counter-examples jump out at me. Mack The Knife. Most stuff by eels.

Oh well, yet another train of thought skipping merrily off the rails and dangling its bare feet in a countryside pond while munching on buffet car sandwiches and throwing crisps to frustrated ducks…