Off key with Eric D: Matt Sharp

Eric D'Orazio

Whatever happened to Matt Sharp? He started his assault on the music industry in 1992 as a founding member of emo-icons Weezer. There, his great skill on bass, on-stage antics, and quirky fashion sense made countless fans swoon, and without a doubt, drew attention from the introspective lullabies of Rivers Cuomo.

By 1995, Sharp had also found success fronting his own band, the now-legendary outfit known as The Rentals, for which he left Weezer to pursue fully in 1998. Backed by such characters as That Dog’s Petra Haden, Weezer’s Pat Wilson, and even SNL’s Maya Rudolph, The Rentals’ catalogue of female harmonies and moog tones allowed them a popularity that lasted throughout the latter part of the ’90s.

Yet, soon after their 1999 classic, “Seven More Minutes,” Sharp disbanded the group and went into a self-imposed media hiatus. For the next four years, not a word was heard from the great musician.

Finally, in 2003, Matt Sharp popped back up on the music radar. With the release of a low-fi four-song EP, “Puckett’s Versus The Country Boy,” he brought about a new, more simplistic sound, previously unheard by his longtime fans.

In following this new direction, he did away with the all-girl harmonies and moog that so defined his previous efforts, and traded them in for a mellow attitude and an acoustic guitar. Backed primarily by former Cake guitarist Greg Brown, engineer Josh Hager, and former Boo Radleys producer Andy Wilkinson, Sharp figured that the best way to convey his music was to keep it as simple as possible.

So, upon the relative success of his EP, he recorded a full-length solo debut, which made its release earlier this year. Though devoid of heavy guitars, drums, or synthesizers, the eponymous album’s 11-tracks bring about an introspective journey into the life of Matt Sharp, from doing laundry after a late-night argument, to remembering the loves of his life, and even to meeting a couple of lesbian documentarians.

If there is one song that best sums up Sharp’s new direction, it is “All Those Dreams,” the first track on the record. Opening with a combination of piano, acoustic guitar and, as Sharp puts it, “ambient sounds,” the song brings about a feeling of reassured tranquility that, in turn, sets the mood for the entire album.

He begins by bringing about such melancholic imagery as a dusty record playing on a rainy day, as well as driving for days “for fear of second place.” Yet, while moving through such retrospection in his verses, his chorus assures that “all those dreams turn out the way they should be,” as well as how those dreams “really make you happy.” Ending with the same combination of piano and guitar, Sharp leaves the song open ended in a sense, asking “what makes you happy?”

Putting aside the overall happiness of “All Those Dreams,” a piece of true sadness comes along in the album’s second song.

Entitled “Goodbye West Coast,” one may be led to believe it is an expression of the years after the dismemberment of The Rentals, where Sharp seemingly left the music business and its lifestyle in California, only to move to Tennessee on a journey of self-discovery. That is partly the truth, as indicated by the line “highways so long, take me back to where I belong,” but the song itself means so much more.

Coming across as something of a travelogue, it speaks of having “a few things left to say to my best friend’s grave,” in addition to “making films about friends I had made.”

Altogether, the song seems more like an ode to the friendships Sharp had made throughout his life, only to disregard them in the height of his popularity, and then to rediscover them through this very song.

Though Matt Sharp went about rediscovering himself and changing his sound in the past four years, some elements of his previous work remain intact on his solo record. Two of those key elements are his insatiable wit and his emo-esque obsession over a girl, both of which appear with great force in “Just Like Movie Stars.”

Throughout the song, he ponders over being with a lovely lady, whom he considers his “lifeguard,” asserting that “she gives me c.p.r., as we hide in the dark, just like movie stars.”

If that isn’t odd enough, later in the song he simply drops the lyrics and goes into “doo doo doo” mode. Having done all this, backed by the continuous strumming of acoustic guitar, he brings about something along the lines of The Rentals’ “It’s Alright” and Weezer’s “El Scorcho.” Yet needless to say, it sounds just like Matt Sharp.

All things considered, the question still lingers: what ever happened to Matt Sharp? Well, to tell you the truth, nothing happened. He simply took a break, thought things over, and, like the musical genius he is, came back with a new sound. In all honesty, it’s not that different from the four-year gap that occurred between the two Rentals albums, during which the band moved from emo to Britpop.

Now of course, Sharp’s new change of direction is of a greater magnitude, especially in considering that most of the songs on his solo effort are above five minutes in length, in addition to the fact that they are so mellow.

But then again, it’s his prerogative to play from his heart, and he’s been thrilling his fans by doing just that. Who cares if all the while he makes Dave Matthews Band look like Metallica. Matt Sharp is still on the cutting edge of music.