Matthew Sweet

Other than an occasional widening of his pop lens—from simple four-piece, hollow-bodied, guitar-driven power pop to something grander, closer to the orchestral pop ambitions of Brian Wilson and The Beatles,—Matthew Sweet, ever the pop auteur, has stayed true to the vision of his 1991 breakthrough, Girlfriend.

In most cases this kind of repetition would be a detriment, a sign he'd run out of ideas, had a one-track mind, was trapped in a milieu of his own making. But in Sweet's case, his love affair with guitar pop music, one that carried through a pair of solid and fun all-star cover records he made with ex-Bangle Susanna Hoffs, has only deepened and become richer over the years.

Here, on his first solo record since 2011's Modern Art, Sweet again returns to what he knows best, short, sweet, guitar-pop originals. In 2013, Sweet moved back to his native Omaha, lost his mother and began to record a mass of material in his home studio, eventually numbering over 30 songs. He trimmed the number to 17 and made the decision to release a double record.

Double records are always risky and usually a bad idea. Most could have been edited down to a single killer disc. On first listen this two-LP set, decently pressed and packaged, falls into that category. Songs like "Circle," easily one of the best here or on any Sweet record, just trails off. The same is true for "The Searcher," another of this record's stronger numbers. Things at first listen feel unfinished.

But after more time spent with the set, the musicality of Sweet and his longtime collaborator Rick Menck, drummer for the much-beloved Rhode Island power-pop band Velvet Crush, is undeniable and endlessly pleasing. Tunes like "Bittersweet," which sound like 20 other tunes that Sweet has written over the years, and one that turns on a guitar hook beneath the lines "I don't want to watch/Cause I knew all along," are very satisfying in their familiarity. "Country Girl," a rare foray into a countrified rock, is also a notable success here. Breaking new ground is great but watching masters at work in what they know best is also fulfilling. His voice, always the strongest point of any Sweet session, is in fine form throughout. And there is also a discernible momentum, a vision from tentative to focused, which gathers force as you move from side one to side four. There's much here for Sweet fans and those new to his art to savor.

If there is a quibble here, it's with the sound, which is at times a bit blurred and buzzy beyond what it should be. Perhaps this is less than great gear at work. Or it could be a deliberate move. Either way the sound slips into being a bit too ill-defined in spots, though this too shows a sense of momentum, as the final tunes are better recorded than the earlier numbers.

On the subject of guests, a common feature of most Sweet albums, the list here is short. There's no Richard Lloyd or Greg Leisz this time out, which is a big sonic loss. Rod Argent stops by to play piano on a couple tracks. Ex-Bangle Debbi Peterson drums on several tracks. And Gary Louris of the Jayhawks adds his voice and guitar to a pair of tracks.

Filled with what Sweet does best, Tomorrow Forever, whose 17 tracks will get faster and tighter as he plays them every night on his current tour, could have been titled Forever Yesterday, in celebration of a past and a future spent perfecting a tasteful, nectarous legacy.