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.
Midnight Oil released ‘Earth and Sun and Moon’ in 1993 and by this time they had become one of the leading forces of righteous ideology-driven rock music. A title they’d worked pretty diligently to grasp for over the years preceding this record. Could you call them Australia’s answer to U2? Probably not. That’s far too lazy of a connection, even if they share a sense of left-leaning political and social ideology. This particular record from the band does seem to present a different set of ideas than some of their previous records on how to go about laying out their conditions for the listener. This record doesn’t appear to share the sense of urgency and occasional bouts of irritability that ‘Diesel and Dust’ did, it often opts for a more restrained emotional center and sensibility. Nevertheless, they remain remarkably similar records.
The opening track on this record is “Feeding Frenzy” which is essentially what had been established as the signature Midnight Oil Aussie-rockin’ track. After all, this track is essentially the “Beds Are Burning” of the record. The Aussie element can’t afford to be overlooked, as it serves a seminal purpose to the sound of the band. One listen to this band and you’re instantly transported to the outback. The following track, “My Country”, is filled with band leader, Peter Garrett’s, ideology-driven social critique. This is something that will probably rub some listeners the wrong way, but hey, if you’re a fan of Midnight Oil already, then you already know what you’re getting yourself into. Needless to say, this familiar motive runs its way throughout the full duration of this record and it’s stacked with excellent tracks. One of the other highlights is “Truganini”, referring to the indigenous Austrialian and his struggle with the incoming European settlers. Another undisputed highlight on the record is “In the Valley” and what becomes clear more than anything else about this record is that Midnight Oil seem to have reached a peaking level of comfort within their own format and know exactly how to execute that format with an impeccable ease. It’s very easy to continuously compare this record to ‘Diesel and Dust’, but it’s necessary. These two records cover seemingly the same path throughout their respective durations.
This record is just solid enough that it might be able to win over the as of yet unconverted masses. Aside from the possibility of conflicting social and political views, there really isn’t a whole lot about this band that is blatantly unlikable. They definitely have a broad range of appeal and aren’t shy about this fact. Though this record exists in sharp contrast to the early days of the band, which were dominated by a pub rock sound, the tough Aussie roots of the band still remain intact. The difference between their earliest records and this record is that, by this point in time, their polishing of their own material was hitting a very high stride. There was definitely a Midnight Oil formula that had to, at the very least, be hinted at or accessed in some form on any of their records. Generally speaking, this is tried and true reality for many established bands and artists. However, it could be argued that there aren’t many bands who have been able to continuously pump out fresh, inspired material within the confines of such a format as Midnight Oil. No, this record isn’t quite as good as ‘Diesel and Dust’, but what is? As for those who don’t share that sentiment, there’s really no need to be so bullheaded.