In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in keeping with the site’s 1995-centric theme, we’re talking about songs from that year.
I have had an emotional kinship with Matthew Sweet ever since 1991’s Girlfriend became my breakup album at a rather pivotal point in my life. That record starts out with the terrifying line, “I don’t know where I’m gonna live,” which nailed my breakup status, and like Sweet, I had about as much chance as getting help from “Divine Intervention” as anything else. His crooning, swooning voice belted out emotions I was unable to put to words, and I couldn’t get enough of his juxtaposition of pop hooks against smoldering guitar licks. Sweet has always straddled this line of being over-the-top smitten, yet as cynical as they come. For my young, still-smarting heart, it was perfect.
Matthew Sweet wound up pulling off one hell of a pop-rock trifecta in the first half of the ’90s; after Girlfriend in 1991, he moved onto Altered Beast in 1993, and finished up this unmatched romantic trilogy with 100% Fun. The cover of a young Sweet listening to giant headphones was prophetic, as he again managed to bring his particular brand of lovelorn pop, interspersed with ballads, to a successful album collection. But the smitten Sweet of Girlfriend had met a “Devil With The Green Eyes” on Beast, so one-half of 100% Fun’s title turned out to be ironic: the fun part. The other half turned everything up to 11, aided by Brendan O’Brien’s bombastic production.
The album finds Sweet’s riveting juxtaposition in full force, as 100% Fun kicked off with the jaunt-that-belies-the-title “Sick Of Myself.” The song tells the story of the lovelorn Sweet (“I’m sick of myself when I look at you / Something as beautiful and true”) alongside a hook that will not be denied. When we’re so in love that we see the object of our desire as perfect, how can such a deity even glance at a gross mere mortal like ourselves?
Even with Sweet’s despair layered on top of that bottomless hook, he slowly builds strength and courage (“I’m beginning to think / Baby, you don’t know”). This climb culminates in a completely nonsensical guitar solo by Television’s Richard Lloyd and a classic Sweet move: the fake ending. Just like on Girlfriend’s title track, this musical fakeout implied that he was just having too much fun rocking to stop, so he brings it all back before we’re finished with him.
Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity taught us that pop music has always been cathartic; Matthew Sweet translated this for the lovelorn of the ’90s. And “Sick Of Myself” serves as the anthem for Sweet’s rock brand of tortured romantic despair.