Vinyl Vlog 129

Vinyl Vlog 129

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Record Store Day-released Goodfriend LP by Matthew Sweet.

Chances are, if you grew up anywhere within the reach of a rock radio station’s signal between 1989 amd 1996, you have more than a few memories for which Matthew Sweet’s music provided the soundtrack. Between 1989 and 1996, Sweet was everywhere; a string of singles including “Sick Of Myself,” “Girlfriend,” “The Ugly Truth,” “Time Capsule” and “Evangeline” got heavy exposure on radio, and did so with no help from any other media outlet. No, Sweet’s success was all about the radio – the old fashioned way. Granted, the bubble did eventually burst and the singer did lose a lot of presence as his personal problems began to overshadow his music, but the world was really good for Matthew Sweet for a little while. Because it was so good too – and because of the marketing trends of the day – there were a few extra tracks (demos, live cuts, B-sides and other assorted promo recordings) which circulated and eventually came to be comiled as a bonus disc called Goodfriend (which was actually the original title for the song which would come to be known as “Girlfriend” – it was re-named because so many people mis-heard it during the recording process for the album) which was issued as a pormotional release by Sweet’s fanclub first, and then as part of the Legacy Edition of Girlfriend in 2006.

The greatest surprise about that second disc has proven to be the life it has taken for itself. Hilariously, fans began buying the Legacy Edition reissue specifically to check out the second disc’s wares so, now, the label has issued it as a standalone 12” record for fans to find on Record Store Day.

…And, like so many other B-sides/rarities compilations which came from the alt-rock era, Goodfriend is a good album that fans will cherish. Beginning with the previously unreleased demo “Divine Intervention,” fans will find themselves warped right back to the time and place and mindset they were in during the mid-Nineties; when hearing a Matthew Sweet song on the radio was common but always welcome. The acoustic guitar which drives the song is timeless in that it could have been recorded on any day and the vocal take is of the sort which could have both made the song a hit for the singer as well as fitting into any radio playlist of the day. That familiarity is comforting; it’s a great throwback to a very different time.

With listeners pulled into the fold and frame of mind, the side shifts into an awesome pose with a stomping, R&B-centered take of “Girlfriend” which will have fans looking back so fast and so hard that they might just lose their balance. Here, guitarists Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd abandon the “Beatles as powered by The Voidoids” vibe which characterized the take that people remember as driving “Girlfriend” and sub in a slower, sexier R&B rhythm which pretty much screams “outtake” (had this version been the one which appeared on the album years ago, it’s unlikely to have been the hit it was) but, by the same token, this version is able to stand on the original hit and add a different flavor that fans will find really fantastic. Simply said, this version doesn’t work particularly well on its own, but it’s great when stacked next to memories of the original.

After “Girlfriend” v. 2.0 plays out, Goodfriend‘s A-side begins digging into live cuts. Some would some would say this has been done to just run out the clock on the side [which is shockingly short anyway – each of the four sides of Goodfriend are fifteen minutes long or less –ed], but the truth is that the live cuts – which were at least pretty deep if not otherwise unreleased – are pretty cool. Because of that, while the A-side’s pretty lean, it’s not terribly unsatisfying.

That ‘lean but not unsatisfying trend proves to continue throughout the other three sides of Goodfriend. On the B-side, listeners get another solid demo in the form of “Looking At The Sun” (which somehow calls The Beatles’ “Blackbird” to mind, with its muted tones and carefully played acoustic guitar) while the C-side seems to play lightly with just three songs but actually comes a solid second for quality thanks to the demo version of “Winona” and the BBC-recorded live version of “Someone To Pull The Trigger.” While the side is short, each of those tracks is of a quality so great that listeners will be able to feel their eyes widening as the side spins and Sweet illustrates that his ability to captivate listeners is actually the keystone element of each performance – not necessarily the amount of overdubs added or the amount of bombast included in post-production. Raw like they are, these performances are nothing short of astounding.

And then, because some moments need to find a sense of normalcy in order to snap believers from their ecstatic hypnosis, The D-side of Goodfriend reprises “Girlfriend” briskly (this time as a live version which sort of points to the frustration that Sweet was reported to have been feeling at the time) before knocking out a couple of covers to finish things off. The covers songs included don’t exactly qualify as surprising choices (quite the opposite, actually), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good ones; Sweet’s live cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer” is remarkable first because it’s fairly short (most often, fans of this song enjoy stretching it to unbelievable lengths when they play it live) and because it’s about the closest to an grey-pop (not bright and shiny, but still poppy) cover that anyone has ever attempted with it. Here, Sweet is clearly inhabiting Young’s depression as he lilts with an added violin and marches through the manic guitar solo which actually comes close to sounding like Crazy Horse. And then, just in case the point wasn’t made that this show is over, a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation” recorded in front of great studio microphones and so intimately that there’s no question the vocals were whispered wafts through to remove all doubt. The mental anguish on both this side in general and this last cover in particular is absolutely palpable; the crawling tempo and heartbroken performance are undeniable. It might sound like a lousy note to end on in theory but, as one listens, it proves to be fantastic and satisfying in practice; were it not for this cover, fans might have hoped for more or somehow felt shorted by the set as a whole in spite of it being a double album but, because it ends the way it does, everyone who goes front-to-back with the whole set knows they got everything they needed from Goodfriend.

“But is it worth the money on Record Store Day,” you plead? When my peers heard that I was previewing this album for Record Store Day, many of them scoffed, either because they weren’t in the right place to remember how great Matthew Sweet was in the Nineties, or because they just didn’t know. But I knew, and can happily say this: “Yes – anyone who remembers the power that Matthew Sweet held in his prime will find the sticker price on Goodfriend more than manageable.” If you skipped out on the Legacy reissue of the album for some reason – maybe because the idea of re-buying an album for a second disc of extras seems a little silly – this album is absolutely, positively worth finding.


Goodfriend – Another Take On ‘Girlfriend’ will be available on April 16. 2016 at select independent record stores. Go find your copy there!

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