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Young groups put new energy into pop renaissance

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After years of grunge and punk-rock popularity, pop music seems to be making a comeback these days.

Taking their cues from sources as diverse as the Beatles, acclaimed but commercially ignored '70s U.S. act Big Star and even Fleetwood Mac, these young acts are even starting to make headway on commercial radio, which has been receptive to some of the better singles coming out of this new pop renaissance.For example, former Nebraska native Matthew Sweet toiled in vain with two bands, Buzz of Delight and Oh-OK, as well as two overproduced twee pop solo albums, before re-emerging with "Girl-friend," a roaring pop-rock record that delighted music fans and critics alike.

Sweet's sixth full-length album, "Blue Sky on Mars," contines to mine the territory staked out with "Girlfriend" but also proves his talent as a musician, besides his obvious skills as a songwriter and vocalist.

Gone are guitarists Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd, as well as the overly busy production that marred his 1994 album, "100% Fun." Instead, Sweet handles most of the instrumentation - including electric and acoustic guitar, bass guitar, synthesizer and theremin - himself (aug-mented by drummers Stuart Johnson and Ric Menck).

There are still some excesses, though, such as the cheesy mellotron added to "Into Your Drug" and the electric harpsichord on "Until You Break." However, even production gloss can't obscure catchy pop nuggets like "Back to You," "Over It" and "Where You Get Love."

Canadian pop-rockers Sloan haven't had nearly the success of Sweet (in fact, after two sparkling but unsuccessful albums, the quartet was dropped from its original major-label deal), but its brand of power-pop is nearly as good.

Returning with "One Chord to Another," Sloan gets a little overambitious this time around (the inclusion of horns on "Anyone Who's Anyone" doesn't really add anything to the song), but sharp songwriting and great hooks (especially on "G turns to D" ) still win out in a landslide.

Lastly, Texas trio Fastball bounces back and forth between power-pop, pop-punk and pop thrash on its debut full-length, "Make Your Mama Proud." While the results aren't always successful (the hard-rock number "Knock It Down" and the dumb title track are irritating at best), there are some gems hiding among the chaff.

The hidden humor in "Boomerang" shows real smarts and "Are You Ready For the Fallout?" has a chorus so catchy it may stick with you for days. And remember, this is only the band's first record.