I am a big fan of good, honest pop music. Not the focus-group-tested, pretty-face pop music that has been a ubiquitous part of the music industry from time immemorial, but the honest work of true artists. Matthew Sweet is a genuine artist, and "Girlfriend" is his masterpiece. His later efforts slowly drifted away from the radio-friendly pop hooks that permiated his 1991 work, but for the fan of the radio-friendly 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 minute pop song, there's not much better out there than "Girlfriend."
The centerpiece of the album is the title track, a great little piece of power pop about the desire to find another girlfriend at some point after the end of a previous relationship. Music video (inspired by a love of anime) follows:
It's a song with a happy, hopeful tone, but the album as a whole is considerably darker. It follows the pop music tradition of focusing more on heartbreak and unrequited love than on happiness and fulfillment. Despite the darker lyrical tones, it's an eminently listenable, singable, grooveable (I made up that word) album.
Highlights include downers like "You Don't Love Me", a little ballad to warm your heart:
'Cause you don't love me
You don't love me
You can't see how I matter in this world
Even though I loved you
You can't believe that
If you find something
You think might make you happy
Then I guess it's okay, I think it's okay
If you go away
That's more like the tone of the rest of the album. The best song on the album, in my opinion, is another ballad "Winona" which is not about Winona Ryder:
Could you be my little movie star
Could you be my long lost girl
It's true that I don't really know you
But I'm alone in the world
When I think maybe I need you
I don't care if it's not true
'Cause it isn't so much what I need now
As what I want from you
This song is clearly about a very healthy relationship. Or is it about stalking. You decide.
I don't want to give the impression it's a downer of an album. The lyrics are often sad and dark, but the music has terrific pop hooks, and the lyrics are simply in the long tradition of rock songs about break-ups and never-been-togethers. Overall, the album is not nearly as moody as "Violent Femmes". It's more about embracing a pop formula and then executing that formula very very well.
No, it is not, therefore, an innovative album. Matthew Sweet did not and does not invent any new form of music. He has always embraced the old, updated it, and done it very very well.
This is an album that has been solidly in my playing rotation since college, except after I lost the album during some move and went some time without replacing it. When I finally replaced it and listened to it again, I was amazed again by its power. His other albums, particularly his follow-up "Altered Beast" are pretty good. There are a couple of duds in his discography (such as the mis-fire "Living Things", Sweet's ode to the natural world), but overall Matthew Sweet's been making good albums for going on two decades now. "Girlfriend" is what he will be remembered for, however, and it's an album that should rightfully put him among the best pop rock artists ever.