The early 1990s were a lovely time for rock music: Beck, Sparklehorse, Sugar, Green on Red and Royal Trux. I wish I’d savoured it all more at the time, not realising that Damon and Noel would come along decked in Union Jacks and suffocate us with the precious (Damon) and the oafish (Noel). There was Matthew Sweet’s first album, too — Girlfriend; the missing link between Big Star and Neil Young.
He is a criminally underrated songwriter, but then power pop has never found much traction over here since the fab four called it a day. Sweet is an engaging soul with a self-deprecation that occasionally teeters into self-loathing. Like Paul Westerberg, there is intelligence, humour and subtlety in his lyrics and always, always good tunes. He has continued to plough his singular furrow, taking time off to release a bunch of comparatively lucrative cover albums with Susanna Hoffs. But the template never really varies.
Catspaw kicks off with the T. Rex stomp of ‘Blown Away’ — he always was an Anglophile. The rest sounds like Crazy Horse covering the Byrds, or the Raspberries: cute tunes, squawling guitar this time provided by Sweet himself rather than his previous collaborators Robert Quine (now dead) or Richard Lloyd. He’s maybe a bit too fond of his own lead playing, to be honest, but this is a fine album. The only other musician is Ric Menck, once of the wonderful Velvet Crush. Listen to their version of Gene Clark’s ‘Why Not Your Baby’ and tell me it isn’t the best cover you ever heard. That was from 1993, just as Noel and Damon had begun stamping across our land.