I was thinking about this on my long and dull commute, dwelling on the question Phila raised in the Brian Wilson thread: should pop have a canon? Gardner, being a geek like me, thinks so. But though I'm not insistent on canonization per se, I do think there are albums which are, in Thers's inimitable teenage slang, "crucial."
And so we begin.
Matthew Sweet: 100% Fun (1994).
This isn't a usual selection for Sweet. Most people would identify his inaugural 1991 album Girlfriend, which is, admittedly, a classic (and "Holy War" seems to be something of a staple on my ipod these days). But I like this one a lot. Here are some reasons why.
"Sick of Myself": Had a great moment once with this tune. Once upon a time, Thers and I inherited a troubled teen. In two years of attempting to parent her, we only had a few months of peace, when she hooked up with another sort of misfit kid. They were tight for a while, and their psychoses seemed to fit together, which is all you can really ask for an adolescent relationship, it seems to me. One day, she was very excited, said their whole relationship had been caught in a song, and she hadn't gotten all of it, but had part of it off the radio. Could she play it for me? Please? I'd like it, she swore I would. Okay, I replied. Imagine how put out she was when the song came on and I knew all the words. But she was somewhat assuaged when I told her we had a much better copy on CD and she wasn't actually stuck with her off-the-radio version.
"We're the Same": I think every relationship probably has this phase, the initial blurring of boundaries, the sense that you share more than there's any reason to believe that you do. Generally, you outgrow it until such time as you've lived together long enough to really be that much alike. (Ex: Nothing infuriates Thers more than when I ask him to do, as a favor, something he's just begun to do as a surprise. I know this has happened when I ask him to do something and he howls my surname in wounded outrage: I've just taken away all the good-guy points he was going to earn by doing something nice for me by actually asking for it. But how weird is it that we think of such tasks at pretty much the same moment?) I also really like the video for this song, which features Sweet as a 70's svengali producer taking a beautiful girl band and squeezing them into a common (and less attractive) mold: they all end up looking like Tricia Nixon or something. But the video was directed by the same people who did the pretty funny film Spirit of '76, starring Redd Kross, and it has a lot of that same look and vibe.
"Walk Out": Like REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It," had been for the eighties, this was the song for the ninteties that everyone I know seemed to hear just at the moment they needed to, some moment when it was resonant and important, possibly out of all proportion. But if you're in a relationship and depressed, it's not too uncommon, I think, to assume that getting out of the relationship will lift the fog. It even works sometimes.
When you look into a mirror
The reflection that you see
Is a shell of what you were
It's not who you want to be
But you're gonna change
You've just about made up your mind
(You're gonna change)
You're gonna change
And when you leave it all behind
What will the past remember?
What will the future bring?
When you walk out?
"SuperBaby": Glam-rock guitar. What else is there to say?
"Get Older": This is one of those songs that points up to me that my kid and I are different. Watching her struggle through adolescence, I often want to share with her the lyrics to this song, which strike me as peculiarly apropos for those struggles.
Who cares if they don't think you're cool?
They make everything about rules
And you're older than that now
The world will fall into its place
But how geeky would it be to get such a sentiment from your mom? I think I'll wait for her to find it herself. (Maybe I'll pretend not to know it....)
Matthew Sweet is one of those artists who really doesn't seem to care much what the world thinks of him: a mutual acquaintance tells me he's a really nice guy, and his good-natured presence on pretty much every tribute compilation album ever made suggests that he has a sense of humor (though Thers always points out that they can't make a Matthew Sweet tribute album, because he couldn't appear on it. Snarky bastard). I like how he indulges his own interests in glam, in powerpop, in J-pop, in folk, without worrying about how it'll be taken. That's so cool.