When I was working at Chancellor’s school in Hertfordshire, we regularly used a supply teacher. He was really old, probably in his early fifties. I don’t remember his name or if the pupils liked or respected him but I do remember two things he said. One thing was that he had taken early retirement and invested his lump sum in Premium Bonds which meant that every month he had a chance of winning £1 million. The other thing he said which I’ll never forget is that although he looked old, inside he was still an awkward teenager. I scoffed because he did look old. He was over 50.
Now, at the age of 66, I still feel like an awkward self-conscious teenager wondering how anyone would ever take me seriously. As memories of my past surface, I can recognise myself as the same person who sat silently waiting for “Buller” Whitehouse’s Geography lessons to end in 1969 or walked into room A101 at Kingswood Hall Of Residence in 1972 or taught triangles at Nunnery Wood school in 1975 or drove to Cardiff in 1991. My body is much older but my spirit, soul or whatever you want to call it, is ageless.
Matthew Sweet was interviewed about his new album, “Catspaw” recently and said “Even from a young age, I was trying to like put a spin on aging. I remember I did a song and it was about how you just have to let time pass and you’ll just get older. Don’t be afraid. It’s still you.” “Catspaw” is an album that addresses how we all cope with our mortality. It also seems to be written by an awkward teenager. Although Matthew Sweet is happily married and has recently moved back to his home state of Nebraska, a lot of the songs are written about the confusion he feels (or felt) with his relationships. How has he screwed things up? What does the future hold? It doesn’t feel like an album written by a 56 year old at all. In “At A Loss”, his self-consciousness makes him worry that he will say the wrong thing. “I’ll never know what I’m gonna say. until then, I’m at a loss”. In “No Surprise”, his lack of happy relationships causes regret about his past behaviour. “If I ever get another chance then I will be waiting for you”. In “Best Of Me”, he simply doubts that he has the capacity to be happy. “What if the best of me isn’t good enough? What if my fear says all there is to say about the rest of me?”
“Catspaw” was completed in March 2020, just before the pandemic took hold. “So many people got creative during the pandemic – whereas I was coming off that creative spree. And I really spent most of my year consuming tons of media – lots of movies and shows and streaming all kinds of things.” One of the TV series that he binged on was the original Star Trek, one episode of which was called “Catspaw” which was written by Robert Bloch, the writer of the screenplay for “Psycho”.
One of the lines in this clip is “you asked for love and caused pain instead“. The lyric booklet that comes with the album gives a definition of a catspaw: “Someone or something that comes down quickly upon a victim in the manner of a cat’s paw” The themes of this album are encapsulated in those two quotes. Life is finite and fragile and everything we love or want can disappear quickly. Mistakes are plentiful and just waiting to occur, especially if we feel awkward and out of place.
One of the songs is called “Stars Explode” which was titled because Matthew Sweet came across a band called Stars Explode who had a song called “Matthew Sweet”. This reminds me of Nick Lowe releasing an EP called “Bowi” or The Rumour releasing an album called “Max”. Here is what Matthew Sweet said about “Stars Explode”: “I am always kind of wrestling with how to look at life, how to be prepared for how cruel it is and then also how to see the beauty in it, how to find hope despite the challenges of it.”
Matthew Sweet has released 18 albums since 1986. I have 5 of them and I stopped listening to him when his ferocious dirty guitar players, Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd stopped playing with him. His sound softened and he became a little too bland for me. However, the inclusion of a single “Blown Away” on Spotify’s “Release Radar” on Friday encouraged me to try this new album, “Catspaw”, my first new album of 2021. Every instrument on the album is played by Matthew Sweet with the exception of the drumming which is played by Ric Menck who is a member of Velvet Crush and has played drums on most of Matthew Sweet’s albums. Thankfully, that explosive lead guitar sound is back and dominates most tracks.
It’s a very enjoyable and I enjoy it in the same way that I enjoyed listening to “Woman” by Free in 1969. I’m still the same person.