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Matthew Sweet is often aligned with the surge in power-pop fandom during the alt-rock 90s, a time when guitar hooks weren’t necessarily delivered faster but played louder and laden with more effects. Listening to many of the era’s compact discs may result in one wondering if the speaker will blow. Probably not. There’s just a lot of fuzz and distortion surrounding the guitars and vocals. Yet Sweet, with a soft, inviting, warm voice, always kept the emphasis on the melody—no matter how aggressive songs such as “Sick of Myself” may seem at first listen. On 100% Fun, all the guitar-pop touchstones are present—the early Beatles, the Raspberries, and Cheap Trick among them—and like those artists, Sweet balances the “power” in power-pop with earnestness.
As with everything recorded during an era when nearly all humor contained a sense of irony, the topics on 100% Fun are sometimes anything but fun. “Getting Older” traffics in doubts, fears, and lost dreams. “Come to Love” alludes to grass-is-always-greener regrets. And yet the former does so with a playful keyboard gallop while the latter treats mixed emotions with lovely backing harmonies. Such marriages of the bittersweet and peppy remain as old as pop itself, but in the right hands, they are potent. Power-pop endures not just because of the hooks, but because it reflects the everyday. Any span of 24 hours can be filled with joy, heartache, laughs, and tears. In turn, 100% Funwill never go out of style during a day’s transitional periods—those moments in a car or making a meal, or any moment that comes between dealing with so-called “reality.”
With apologies for potentially dating 100% Fun, the 90s were known for rom-coms: Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, Notting Hill, High Fidelity, and While You Were Sleeping, just to name a few. But summer 2018 hasn’t been bad, either, thanks largely to Netflix, which invests in revitalizing the genre. Check out Set it Up,a throwback rom-com with a modern-day setting that explores the tensions between mixing the personal and the professional. The film features a fine soundtrack, courtesy of choice selections from Huey Lewis & the News, Rogue Wave, Dusty Springfield, and Dire Straits. The emotions of 100% Funwould largely work for the film. After all, a world of hurt and joy lives inside these tunes, while musically, all brim with optimism.
Now is the time to rediscover 100% Fun, or simply get acquainted with it.
Immediately apparent from Intervention Records’ analog reissue is just how much more full of life—and warmer—the songs sound. The opening “Sick of Myself” was a killer single when it was released in 1995, and it remains one now, thanks largely to Sweet’s air-guitar-worthy riff, repeated numerous times as a sort of exclamation point.
And if one compares and contrasts the tune on the new LP with it on the original CD, obvious differences can be heard in Sweet’s vocals. On the original, they’re amped-up in the mix, out in front of the guitars and more rounded—as if all the natural, human fluctuations were intentionally smoothed out. Sure, they’re loud, clear, and easy to sing along to, which no doubt helped the tune became a radio hit. On Intervention’s remaster, they come across more naturally, making Sweet, for all the guitar grandeur of the song, feel close. All told, the restored presentation heightens the sense of vulnerability in a track in which the narrator struggles with insecurities amid his excited infatuation.
Such contrast is the line walked by many of Sweet’s songs here. The swaying ballad “We’re the Same” functions as a loving plea, one that if it got slowed down a tinge, wouldn’t be out of place in the Byrds’ country-tinged catalog. “Lost My Mind” gets a tad aggressive and a little odd, owing a debt to psychedelic rock. The guitar spins obtuse leads, the rhythms make a racket, and the otherworldly background effects not only beg for a close listen but create a sense of anxiety.
While the aforementioned function as two examples of fare that pulls the album in different directions, Intervention’s LP also brings to light seven bonus tracks which, while lacking the guitar-pop refinement of the core album, significantly show just how much experimentation went into these tunes. If “We’re the Same” hints at a rootsy tone, “Breaks My Heart” fully embraces it. The latter, an unreleased demo, shines a lost gem in which Sweet’s upper-register voice slides into a melancholic falsetto and wistful background harmonies hint at sadness yet to come.
Similarly revelatory, an alternate take of “Walk Out” with fewer studio effects showcases a carnival-esque keyboard and Western-styled lead guitar. While the finished product spotlights the strummable electric melody, the outtake reveals the weirdness of the original, organic cut. “Slowly,” previously only available on an international addition of the record, emerges as a gorgeous, Beach Boys-influenced keyboards-focus tune. And the B-sides “Never Said Goodbye” and “You” prove Sweet had a few slow dances in him.
Another never-before-released cut, “Our Song,” unfolds as a Big Star-meets-Replacements mash-up, one where the acoustic notes clash with forceful guitar strikes and a background synth feels equally demented and candy-coated. The sonic contradictions are all tied together by Sweet’s effervescent singing and drive home the point that 100% Funwas, in reality, mostly fun, but that a very large percentage relies on clever nuance.
As intimated above, Intervention’s pressing reveals a run of aces when it comes to sonics. While many A-to-B comparisons yield a few points in favor of the original pressing, 100% Fun is not one of them. Intervention’s copy slays the Classic Records-licensed 1995 release. Expanded dynamics, richer details, increased air, and significantly opened-up soundstages pair with the dead-quiet LP surfaces to lend both revitalized intimacy and power-pop punch to Sweet’s creations. Yet the most dramatic improvements pertain to the percussion, which no longer sounds boxy, and the presence of fully formed bass notes and solid low-end rhythms, both absent on the original.
In terms of packaging, the colors on the front of Intervention’s 2LP set look just a hair darker than those on the original, but there’s no competition when it comes to quality. The reissue’s glossier finishes and heavyweight gatefold jacket exude luxury. And the photo of the headphones- and sunglasses-clad Sweet on the back cover, twisting a knob on a recording device while fingering a guitar chord, bursts with added radiance all the while conveying one overarching feeling: fun.
*VinylReviews.com is owned and operated by Intervention Records’ Founder Shane Buettner.
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