IT WAS THROUGH THE catchiness of his 1991 hit "Girlfriend" (and the same-titled album) that a privileged group of people were welcomed into the cult of Matthew Sweet. A deceptively upbeat tune, "Girlfriend" seemed to tell the story of a guy who found a new love and couldn't wait to call her his own. But a closer listen revealed the song to be about a guy who had loved and lost, and who now was trying to find solace in a previous girlfriend, which of course almost never works, at least not for long.

It was with that moment of clarity that anyone who had ever suffered a broken heart found salvation in Sweet, an unapologetic hangdog singing woeful tunes about the breakup of his first marriage. Ironically, Girlfriend wasn't a total bummer of an album. At its core dwelled an exuberant blast of rock guitar and a heady pop sensibility generated by a musician who obviously held the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds as near to his heart as he did his former wife.

The albums that followed were disappointments in comparison. They were questionably produced, although each carried at least one or two gems within (Altered Beasts' "Ugly Truth Rock," 100% Fun's "Sick of Myself"). But with the release of his new album, In Reverse, Sweet has come full circle. He's got another priceless record on his hands, a disc that finally lives up to the solemn promise made by Girlfriend.

Swelling with gorgeous washes of reverb and enough instrumentation to recreate Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, In Reverse is a triumph of pop that pays respect to all that came before it, while setting a standard for what is to come next. Its harmonies hang right up there with the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," and the 17-musician orchestra Sweet assembled to back him up includes '60s bass veteran Carol Kaye, who played on Pet Sounds, and theremin player Pamelia Kurstin. Normally, such heavy touchstone-insurance might spell a miss by sheer virtue of trying too hard, but with In Reverse, Sweet has made good on the promise of nearly a decade ago.

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