Song of the day: Matthew Sweet’s “Evangeline”

Girlfriend never quite made Matthew Sweet the star he should have been, and for the life of me I don’t know why. The time was right. In 1991, right in the middle of the alternative rock boom, here comes a record that combines the best of sparkly shiny pop with the noise and slur of CBGB’s 1970s heyday. Seriously. What other album would feature members of Television, Scritti Politti, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids along with the Indigo Girls? There’s some filler there, as fits a hour-long record, but at least five tracks—the title song, “I’ve Been Waiting,” “Divine Intervention,” “I Wanted to Tell You,” “Nothing Lasts”—are catchy and crunchy enough to have been #1 singles for much of the 1990s. Girlfriend got glowing reviews, then and now, was promoted heavily, and dozens of power pop bands latched onto it like barnacles on a ship. It was, however, just a modest success. That’s a shame. Probably my favorite album track is “Evangeline,” with its swirling, angular guitars and an aggressively dry sound. Sweet’s trying to sweet-talk a girl home with him, but she “only thinks about the Lord above,” and his multi-tracked vocals sound as saintly as the guitars convey raunch and danger. A sinner tries to make himself into a saint—or at least sound like one—to woo an angel. He gets swatted down, just like John Donne’s flea, but you get the idea he’ll keep trying, loving, and lusting, and maybe, just maybe, take her along with him. Funny song, just as Donne’s poem is funny, just as lust is funny, but also carrying a message of vulnerable love.

RELATED: I’ve written about Girlfriend before, way back in 2006.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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