TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Matthew Sweet's new album, "Tomorrow Forever." It's his first album of new songs in six years. Among the musicians backing Sweet are Debbie Petersen from The Bangles and keyboardist Rod Argent from the '60s band The Zombies. "Tomorrow Forever" has a lot of music, 17 songs. And Ken says it contains many strong examples of Sweet's brand of rock 'n' roll.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOBODY KNOWS")
MATTHEW SWEET: (Singing) I get a lot out of love, but it takes it out of me. No matter how hard it is, it's the only way to be. I put a lot into love as it leaves and returns with no telling if I ever will learn. There's a way to hang on, but eventually you must let go. Walks free...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Power pop, the genre in which Matthew Sweet works, could be defined as music influenced by The Beatles plus name your favorite 1960s American hitmakers from The Beau Brummels to Paul Revere & The Raiders. This is Matthew Sweet's sweet spot if also the source of his pain as a songwriter. As Sweet sings on the song that opened this review, I get a lot out of love, but it takes it out of me. The perennial goal of finding the perfect guitar hook, putting just the right ache in one's voice is a hard challenge.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRICK")
SWEET: (Singing) I felt the new Earth was moving. I took it under my stride. I rode the sun while the moon beamed and I felt really alive. While you slept I looked into the past and then I knew.
TUCKER: "Tomorrow Forever" is an album stuffed with examples of Sweet's uncanny ability to summon up the time just before rock 'n' roll became self-consciously rock. That talent found its peak on his one unquestionably great album, 1991's "Girlfriend," a perfect storm of hooks, electric guitars, youth and romance whose nirvana Sweet has been alternately chasing and rejecting ever since. He's had an uneven run of it, and long ago settled into a cult status so dicey he financed this new album via a Kickstarter fundraiser.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY PLEASE")
SWEET: (Singing) Stuck up in the air even though it isn't fair. Everything gets taken away then I awake to you today and now it's useless to resist. Do you need pretty please? 'Cause I need pretty please...
TUCKER: At age 52, Sweet's voice has roughened around the edges. He no longer trades on high-pitched winsomeness to convey innocence or hurt, which is not to say he isn't able to make his voice keen with yearning on a song such as "Entangled."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENTANGLED")
SWEET: (Singing) There's no telling what you'll see, who you'll be when you get to the other side. There's no knowing where you are or how far till the one where your faith feels right. Follow time as it flows both ways. Dream in another direction and universes all around will bleed in another dimension, each one unaware.
TUCKER: On "Girlfriend" in 1991, Sweet portrayed himself as the Midwestern kid pining for love in Los Angeles. The vintage covergirl shot of actress Tuesday Weld was a stand-in for the idealized girlfriend of the album title. Sweet recently moved back to his home state of Nebraska. He recorded much of the music on "Tomorrow Forever" there, but on a song such as "Carol," with its refrain of sunny, funny friend of mine, it sounds as though Sweet finds it easy to recall heartbreak in a warm climate.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAROL")
SWEET: (Singing) I owe everything. No, you owe me nothing. Back and forth we take the blame. None of us should be ashamed. Sunny, funny friend of mine coming everywhere I go. Honey, please, please, please, please. Carol, every place and time we're sharing...
TUCKER: "Tomorrow Forever" was released at the beginning of the summer, and now at the end of the season, I find myself returning again and again to its rigorous, wholly unironic music. These days, Matthew Sweet's melodic hooks tug at the heart in a new way, as the way a middle-aged man has found to connect to a time when he could still conceive of a world free of worry, or cynicism, or irony and do it with renewed energy and sincerity.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Matthew Sweet's new album "Tomorrow Forever." After we take a short break, Lloyd Schwartz will review an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York of painting and poetry by an artist who's not well-known, but Lloyd says was part of some of the most exciting avant-garde movements of the 20th century. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.