Matthew Sweet’s 1993 release, ‘Altered Beast’, struts along with much of the same neurotic, off-kilter rock n’ roll attitude that had defined much of Sweet’s earlier output. Ever since the days of Buddy Holly, there have always been figures in rock n’ roll who aren’t, in any kind of traditional sense, cool. Most of these figures have, importantly, gone on to reinvent or adjust the meaning of cool in a rock context. Are Talking Heads cool? Well, yes. Elvis Costello? Duh. This sort of avenue of rock is exactly where Sweet fits in and thank God for this. Have you ever looked up at what is more traditionally accepted as rock God status and thought that, as cool as it can be at its most grandiose and otherworldly, that it just isn’t steeped in realism? Well, that’s because it’s often not. Generally, figures like Sweet are more understandable through the eyes of the typical listener (this is not meant to demean).
The opening track on this record is “Dinosaur Act” and it starts the record off on a typically high note within Sweet’s usual vein of power pop. The track that is the undisputed highlight of the record, though, as well as perpetrating a sense of blue-collar torture and everyman ‘lover beware’ kind of sentimental warning inside of its beautiful melody and infectious stylings. There were few pop songs in the ’90s that were better than this absolute gem. Another highlight is “Time Capsule”, which maintains its own center of gravity on a record that is full of center and gravity. It’s really no wonder why this record flows so easily. After all, with guests like Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac) and Richard Lloyd (Television) on a record, it’s fair to say that there’s an obligation to maintain some kind of head-above-water level of competency with your craft. One of the records more rocking moments is “Ugly Truth Rock”. In this track, you’ll hear more than a little bit of ‘Life’s Too Short’-era Marshall Crenshaw and there’s definitely no shame in that. Although Sweet doesn’t have the same level of magic with his craft that Crenshaw does, he does have enough of a pedigree to pull it off convincingly and without a shred of inauthenticity.
So overall, this is a good record. As is mentioned above, this record maintains a perfect center of gravity. This is quite an impressive feat when you account for some of the more neurotic songwriting and Sweet’s obviously ’90s aesthetic. The only real sin that this record commits is that it will throw some filler out at you from time to time. However, this is by no means prevalent or invasive on the overall standing of the record. Center of gravity, remember? The simple fact is that you could do a whole lot worse. There is an earnestness and a refinement to Sweet and his songs that make it difficult to not indulge. It would seem that he has found out and, even more importantly, not taken for granted the art of good ole simplistic rock music. You know, the stuff that made everything that came after it possible in the first place. He gets this, but of course puts his own unique ’90s touch on the formula. This is good stuff. You won’t make a cynic out of me on this one.