- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

Matthew Sweet

Kimi Ga Suki Raifu

Superdeformed/

RCAM Records

Matthew Sweet’s 2003 album “Kimi Ga Suki Raifu” is more than just a mash note to his Japanese fans.

The album, now available stateside for the first time, represents the singer’s first original solo effort since 1999’s “In Reverse.” That scattershot disc helped bring his career, already staggered from diminishing record sales, to a virtual stop.

He shook off his malaise long enough last year to record a side project, the Thorns, earning generous reviews as part of the singer-songwriter trio. Those sessions, he told The Washington Times late last year, sparked another soon-to-be released solo album.

For now, we have “Kimi,” a sporadically gorgeous effort that finds Mr. Sweet not so much growing up as expanding the various ways he can conjure visions of love.

“Kimi Ga Suki Raifu,” which the liner notes say very roughly means “a ‘love you’ life,” finds Mr. Sweet teaming with Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck and his standard supporting guitarist, Richard Lloyd of Television. The results are, as on the opening track, “Dead Smile,” vintage Sweet — lush guitars, insistent drums and ethereal lyrics. “Smile” finds the singer hitting the brakes midsong for an acoustic bridge capped by a falsetto cry, but such inspired moments are rare among these genial but limited tracks.

“Morning Song” takes advantage of the singer-songwriter’s penchant for drenching dark themes in luminous chords. “Every day that passes could be your last,” he cries, with the kind of chirpy instrumentation that suggests anything but morbid pessimism.

“I Love You” and “Spiral” prove again that Mr. Sweet doesn’t do heavy. Their lumbering guitars and affected vocals drown in forced anger, like a squeaky-clean pop star embracing tattoos and piercings.

“Love is Gone” is suitably weepy, and “Wait” basks in Mr. Sweet’s dreamy wordplay, even if the lyrics never quite make sense on paper.

The disc closes with a quasi-hidden “Sayonara … I will see you sometime soon,” like a parting friend’s wave fading into the distance.

Mr. Sweet’s romance with his American fans may continue its unrequited spiral, but at least the Japanese faithful will eagerly dig out the gems amidst the sandstone.

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