While Nirvana and Soundgarden were grunging it up in the early 90s, and Trent Reznor and Ministry were shattering eardrums, Matthew Sweet came along with a perfect contemporary pop album full of love songs. Don't get the idea that Girlfriend doesn't rock, though. It's got plenty of hefty guitar work and excellent drumming courtesy of producer Fred Maher.
The title track, "Girlfriend" is a great example of what you'll find on the album. It's instantly familiar, catchy as all hell, and still chock full of tasty guitar work. The lyrics don't really hold up under deep inspection, but the song lives on raw emotion anyway.
The intro for the album is "Divine Intervention," another guitar-driven anthem. I'm not sure there's a lot of new musical ground broken here, but Sweet and company cover familiar territory with some interesting twists and they do it particularly well. I particularly love the false ending that morphs into another sustained attack at the chorus and is full of masterful guitar work.
"You Don't Love Me," is a bit of a change-up for Girlfriend. It's slower, has some steel guitar and piano, and just a touch of country about it. About letting go of a former partner, I find this one the most poignant song on the album.
"Holy War," is the only real deviation from love/loss songs, and Sweet tries his hand at a protest about the Gulf War here. It's not horrible, but he's out of his element on this one.
Even with a misstep, Girlfriend still delivers 25 years after its release. I've checked out some of Sweet's subsequent work, and while it's good, none of it has quite tickled my music bone the way that Girlfriend did. Maybe I'm not as receptive an audience for Sweet as I was in my early 20s, or maybe (as the commercial success of other albums hints) Girlfriend was a creative peak. But Girlfriend is a hell of an album, and I'm always happy to recommend it to folks who didn't catch it the first time around.