Matthew Sweet

To Understand: The Early Recordings of Matthew Sweet

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Universal's reissue label Hip-O is distinguished by its willingness to license recordings from other record companies to create definitive compilations. This collection, unlike other Hip-O releases, is not the "ultimate" Matthew Sweet, but rather the ultimate early Matthew Sweet, which is to say, Matthew Sweet prior to the commercial breakthrough he enjoyed with his 1991 album Girlfriend. Compilation producer Mike Ragogna is able to use Sweet's 1989 album, Earth, released on A&M Records, now part of the Universal catalog, and various B-sides recorded around the same time as that album, as an anchor for the collection, occupying ten of the 22 tracks. But Hip-O has licensed some tracks by the Buzz of Delight, Sweet's early-'80s duo with drummer David Pierce, including several that were previously unreleased from DB Records, as well as four tracks from his 1986 Columbia Records album Inside, a track from the Golden Palominos' disc The Blast of Silence, and, from I.R.S. Records, a previously unreleased demo by Sweet and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe performing under the name Community Trolls. The result is a fascinating examination of Sweet's musical development. The Buzz of Delight tracks are very much in the Athens, GA, alternative rock sound of the early '80s, reminiscent of R.E.M.'s recordings of the same period. The tracks from Inside find Sweet going for a heavily produced pop sheen with plenty of shimmering echo, similar to the kind of one-man-band recordings Dwight Twilley had been making a few years earlier. The Earth tracks look forward to the better-realized Girlfriend, even concluding with a demo version of that album's title song. And the Stipe collaboration is an appropriate coda. Sweet fans should rejoice at this release, not only for its valuable rarities, but also for the portrait it provides of his promising early work.

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