Matthew Sweet has maintained his preeminence in the power-pop stratosphere of contemporary rock despite the fact he’s modified his approach from record to record, sometimes drastically. Girlfriend doesn’t sound like Blue Sky on Mars which doesn’t sound like In Reverse which doesn’t sound like Altered Beast. That said, early on in his career, he fortified a style of his own emphasizing lush harmony vocals combined with layered and loud electric electric guitars, elements which have fortified a solid foundation for those aforementioned variations.
Those components, not surprisingly, are those very same that distinguish his first album in six years Tomorrow Forever. Personal travails afflicted Sweet in that interim, but there’s a natural flow to the album right from the start of the first track “Trick,” an unself-conscious tenor that continues as he moves a little way into the mystic on “Entangled.” Mixing in acoustic guitars an the latter track imparts a subtlety that contrasts with the edge in his voice on “Pretty Please,” where the electric fretboard sounds are also razor-sharp.
A supple flow of organ adds texture to that cut too, a piece of smart arranging that Matthew mastered long ago, but one that has proven, and continues to be, indispensable to his studio work. He’d never be mistaken as a roots musician or songwriter, but the easygoing gait of “You Knew Me,” during which more acoustic guitars have additional prominence almost equal to the sounds of pedal steel, suggest he’s more than a little conversant with country as well as folk music.
Comprised of seventeen tracks (out of a total thirty-eight recorded), Tomorrow Forever nevertheless does not sprawl. Sweet keeps the cuts, like “Circle” and “Haunted,” to an easily manageable listening length within the three-to four minute range. Such a disciplined approach is in line with the man’s new-founded independence: this recording was completed at his own newly-established home studio and released as a means to also launch his own label Honeycomb Hideout.
The a warm glow of “Country Girl” provides an effective balance to the otherwise, muscular bracing sensations that ripple through much of this record.. Yet even in such a subdued atmosphere, the lead guitar cuts, ever so slightly deeper than the acoustic picking, maintaining a comforting air offset by the ominous atmosphere conjured up from the rhythm guitars: locked with drums, those instruments push Sweet’s lead vocal into an ever-so-slightly threatening realm.
And there’s a similar hint of mysterious portent arising from the closing couplet; “Hello” and “End Is Near” don’t exactly turn this into a concept album, but only more of an extended dream sequence in song. The lyrics of “Nobody Knows” hint at the emotional turbulence Matthew Sweet endured recently, but only insofar as he’s come to terms with loss and change. He’s never avoided such internal honesty on any of his records, but, as in the past, songs like “The Searcher” find him confronting his feelings and, perhaps as a direct result of that forthright approach, without adverse affect on his writing, playing or recording.
On the contrary, these individual compositions, like “Bittersweet” and in turn, the album as a whole, represent nothing so much as means for Matthew Sweet to transcend his troubles. Savoring the pleasures of Tomorrow Forever doesn’t require such interpretations, but only adds to the depth of satisfaction derived from hearing the record.