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|Home / College Guide / Day After Day #38: Divine Intervention
| Posted on Sunday, February 11 @ 00:00:05 PST
Day After Day is an ambitious attempt to write about a song every day in 2024 (starting on Jan. 4).
Divine Intervention (1991)
For music fans of a certain vintage, the radio was everything. Growing up, I listened to the radio all the time. I couldnt get enough of it. Of course, by that time, corporate interests were already busy ruining rock radio with formatting and payola, but I didnt know or care about any of that shit when I was 12. Nowadays, of course, thats all gone. Oh, radios still there, but its fairly terrible. Thank jeebus for college radio and the internet (
pluggity plug plug).
But the radio is how I was introduced to many great artists. Im pretty sure the first time I heard Matthew Sweet was while driving to the gym in late 1991. Divine Intervention was playing on WFNX and I was immediately blown away. Not just by the retro-sounding production or the existential crisis of the singer, but the guitar. My god, the guitar. Right off the bat, Richard Lloyd of Television fame is soloing all over that mofo. Some of the most incredible guitar work Id ever heard right there in a 5-minute song.
The song is the lead-in to Sweets 1991 album Girlfriend, which he wrote after the breakup of his marriage.
Divine Intervention finds him questioning the existence of God as he evaluates the shambles of his life.
I dont know where Im gonna live/Dont know if Ill find a place/Id have to think about it some/And that I do not wish to face/I guess Im counting on his divine intervention.
As I mentioned earlier, the production is immaculate, with all the instruments spaced out: Ric Mencks drums are compressed in one speaker, and Sweets crunchy rhythm guitar in the other while Lloyd just flies all over the place on lead guitar. While Sweets questioning the existence of a higher power, clearly the real god is right in front of him playing sick-ass solos.
Divine Intervention fades out into a fake ending and then roars back, with Lloyd angrily ripping more fire as the song closes. On that first listen, I was sold. I picked up the album and found that there was no letup. Sweet also recruited another guitar legend, Robert Quine of the Voidoids, who also plays with righteous fury on several of the songs. The combination of guitar gods with Sweets brilliant sad bastard power pop makes Girlfriend one of the best albums of 1991 (although I really listened to it more in 1992), and thats in a crowded field of incredible releases: Nevermind, Achtung Baby, Badmotorfinger, Bandwagonesque, Gish, The Low End Theory, etc.
The title track is a rocker featuring Quines lead playing and it became a minor hit, aided by a anime video on MTV. But there are so many great songs on this record: Ive Been Waiting, Looking at the Sun, Evangeline, Nothing Lasts. I saw Sweet in early 92 opening for Robyn Hitchcock at Avalon and have seen him several times over the last three decades, including a record release party for 1997s Blue Sky on Mars at a brewpub in Portland and the 20th anniversary tour of Girlfriend where he played the album front to back.
Girlfriend only went to #100 on the Billboard 200 chart, but it remains Sweets crowning achievement. Thats not to say he hasnt released great albums since. 1993s Altered Beast was a misunderstood masterpiece, again featuring Lloyd and Quine, as well as Ivan Julian and drummers Mick Fleetwood, Jody Stephens and Pete Thomas. Its a dark and pissed off record that certainly wasnt Girlfriend 2. His 90s output was strong and hes continued to stay active since, including three covers albums with Susanna Hoffs; his latest album, 2021s Catspaw, was good.
But its no insult to say Girlfriend was Sweets peak. Even listening to it now as I write this, Im struck by how great it is.