MATTHEW SWEET: Sunshine Lies [Shout! Factory]

A failing marriage doesn’t guarantee great art, but it certainly helps. For Matthew Sweet, it was the well-publicized secret behind 1991’s Girlfriend, a masterpiece of pop anguish. Though 1995’s 100{e5d2c082e45b5ce38ac2ea5f0bdedb3901cc97dfa4ea5e625fd79a7c2dc9f191} Fun came close to living up to its title, he has been unable to duplicate that intensity in his handful of albums since. Sunshine Lies contains some of Sweet’s best moments in years, with the classic push/pull of gloriously sunny melodies and lyrical darkness underneath. With chiming guitars, keening pedal steel and a steady backbeat, it drives the title track, on which Sweet sings, “Shower me with your sunshine lies and I’ll believe.” It’s there full-strength in the achingly beautiful “Feel Fear,” on which he confesses, “I’m still turning inside out to love you.” But all too often, the clouds part to reveal even more California sun, as if every problem in the world could be solved by finding a “room to rock in,” and love is all you need to be “happy in a house of cards.” It’s not. I know it, you know it, and Sweet knows it. His sense of balance is off, and when there’s not enough pain to leaven the pleasure, even the most beautiful melodies lose their sting. []

—Kenny Berkowitz