More than three decades have passed since Matthew Sweet broke out of Athens, Georgia with pining alt-rock songs about bad romances. Judging from his 13th LP, he still appears to be most comfortable writing about shitty, unworkable relationships (even though he’s settled down and married). There’s the lovers he’s unable to leave in “I Belong to You” and “Out of My Misery,” a woman he’s affectionately dubbed “Lady Frankenstein” (“I can love you with his heart,” he sings somewhat morbidly, “I will hold you in his arms”) and the quixotic “Girl With Cat,” a seemingly imaginary girlfriend with whom he can fall asleep and be free of care for “18 hours a day” (y’know, like a cat). But what he lacks in mojo, he makes up for with torch tunes for the 120 Minutes nostalgia set.
Ever since he established his groove in the Nineties on singles like “Girlfriend” and “Sick of Myself,” Sweet has perfected an approach to songwriting that owes equal debt to the Beatles, Big Star and the Partridge Family. He and a rotating cast of musicians color his sentimental tempests on Tomorrow’s Daughter – a set of songs he wrote in a burst of creativity at the same time as last year’s Tomorrow Forever – with different shades of tumult.
It’s the variety of styles that makes the record work. “I Belong to You” has a jangly, country-rock vibe, an approach he later ratchets up with slide guitar on the album closer “Passerby,” which would be one of the record’s standouts were it not for lyrics like, “I might not get lucky/But I could get lucky” and “It’s a long time coming/In a long time coming.” “Something Someone,” a slower, straight-ahead ballad, makes up for the latter song with more tender confessionals like “I’m still open for the chance it might be real” and bluesy guitar leads by Val McCallum. And “Show Me” is a perfect love-in-trouble song from the school of David Cassidy but with sharper instrumentation. Throughout it all, McCallum and the singer’s other six-string collaborators play swirling textures of strumming and guitar solos that seem to sigh right along with Sweet.
As long as he can approximate feeling miserable (or maudlin or defeated, depending on the tune) Sweet will be writing songs that make it sound like it’s an OK place to be. Every song on Tomorrow’s Daughter has a memorable vocal line, and Sweet’s voice hasn’t changed all too much over the years – it’s still capable of sounding quixotically morose and satisfied at the same time, like he’s enjoying all of life’s letdowns. He’s not wallowing in self-loathing the way he did 30 years ago, he just knows how to hold onto the feeling and make some sense of it.