Matthew Sweet treads a perilous path, one that threatens to put him in the echelon of a Paul Westerberg or a Robyn Hitchcock -- elder statesmen of stunted adoration. But Sweet is more of a melody natural than Paulie and less lyrically esoteric than Bob. Reborn after two albums of underrated synth-pop, Sweet was the poster boy for the era's brand of half-grunged, Big Star-influenced rock & roll. You'd think that at some point he'd have gotten that final nudge over the fame line, as close to it as he's danced. His Girlfriend album, which some consider a rare early-'90s pop masterpiece in the company of Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque and the Posies' Dear 23 -- two other "masterpieces" whose flaws ensure they're actually not -- suffers under the snarl of Robert Quine's sorely miscast guitar.
His next couple of albums sort of repeated the steady Girlfriend formula; then Sweet calmed down and stopped trying to cater to uninterested parties. His newest, In Reverse, bounces off the Spector "wall of sound" and marks him as the hunter in a surfing safari. It's go-getting reverence toward one's influences without the urge to impress, stagnate or pander as the High Llamas and the Olivia Tremor Control sometimes do. Sweet's not back on top of the college charts, but those Girlfriend students are all grown up now, anyway -- married women who remember some really bad Sweet shows. If you'd like to see a studio hermit try to clean up his act onstage, have at it. But realize that it's just because everybody has to tour to stay afloat, even those dragged out of bed like Brian Wilson.