Altered Beast

Matthew Sweet

Zoo Entertainment, 1993

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


After the success that Matthew Sweet had with his album Girlfriend, he decided that the retro-'70s sound he had hit the jackpot with was the way to go. In 1993, Sweet came out with his fourth album Altered Beast which seemed to sum up the situation with the following line: "I'm coming back with my dinosaur act."

I remember buying this album when it came out for the song "Time Capsule," which got pretty good airplay in Chicago at the time. For a while, I didn't take it out of the tape deck of my car. Then, almost as suddenly as I had gotten into the tape, I forgot about it - and it has been collecting dust in the Pierce Archives all this time... until now.

Sweet again assembled a wide array of band members to help create the sound he was quickly becoming known for. Richard Lloyd, Nicky Hopkins, Ric Menck - even Mick Fleetwood all lend a hand on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Altered Beast. And while there are some powerful songs on this album, it doesn't always capture your attention like Sweet would have wanted it to.

In one sense, the pressure was off of Sweet. After two albums that had failed to attract major attention, he had finally hit the target with Girlfriend; now, he didn't have to prove himself with Altered Beast. However, people expected him to top Girlfriend, so a new dimension of pressure was added to the project.

Fortunately, a lot of the material is indeed fresher. Songs like "Devil With The Green Eyes," "Someone To Pull The Trigger" and "Time Capsule" (I forgot just how damn good this song was) all showcase Sweet's songwriting talent and the ability of Sweet and his band to create a true mood with the music. Ballads, too, are no obstacle for Sweet, as he proves on "Life Without You" and "Evergreen".

Two different versions of "The Ugly Truth" might seem to be a bit of overkill - especially when one is introed with a snippet from the shock-porn film Caligula -but there is enough difference in the two versions to keep them interesting.

The biggest drawback with Altered Beast is that the formula Sweet uses in most of his music tends to stagnate quickly, and without warning. The bulk of the first part of the album is great, while a lot of the second side, such as "Falling," "Do It Again" and "Reaching Out," fail to hit the mark. The listener, in turn, might find themselves getting restless at this juncture. It's still worth checking out, but don't be surprised if you find yourself getting distracted near the end of the album.

So did Sweet top Girlfriend? In my mind, yes; this album is far more approachable than Girlfriend was, partly because Sweet didn't have to worry about whether this would be the album to break him into the mainstream. Partly, too, because his songwriting got a little better; Altered Beast has a more natural sound to it, and doesn't feel like the retro-sound was forced onto the music.

Altered Beast is a great place for new fans of Sweet to start their musical journey into his career, but it also showed signs that the formula that had brought him success might have been showing signs of weakening.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zoo Entertainment, and is used for informational purposes only.