Review Summary: Matthew Good positively extends the legacy of his music by re-introducing it in new and unique formats to new audiences.
Since 1999, the landscape of rock music has undergone many fundamental changes. Alternative rock, in particular, appears to have receded in popularity over the past decade, being partially eclipsed by the rise of hip-hop and electronic music. However, it still retains a large and dedicated fan-base, and innovations are regularly occurring as new artists continue to break new ground.
Matthew Good Band’s 1999 album Beautiful Midnight delivered an impressive collection of intense, emotional and thought-provoking alternative rock. Good was certainly not the first artist to attempt the fusion of melancholic bleakness with punchy, in-your-face instrumentation. Nevertheless, the result was a timeless record that still sounds amazingly fresh to this day.
Released in 2016, this EP sees Good attempting to shine new light on five cuts from Beautiful Midnight. The first thing the listener will notice is the cleaner, warmer production. The drums are more low-key – both in technical playing and in production style – and blend tightly with the rest of the music, creating more of a relaxed tone than the original album. Overall, the mixing and instrumentation is not as jarring and intense as on the 1999 release, and this could potentially alienate fans expecting such sounds.
However, while some of these new renditions dull some of the edge and ‘soul’ of the original songs, others manage to explore the tracks from new angles and bring fresh and exciting sounds to modernize a record released more than seventeen years ago.
One of the main trends heard on this EP is Good’s attempt to refashion the material with more upbeat tempos. This generally has mixed results. On certain songs, such as “Suburbia,” Good incorporates a style somewhat reminiscent of today’s releases, and it actually brings something new and special to the listener. Unlike the somber, brooding original, Good presents the song’s apocalyptic contemplations in a highly accessible pop-rock format. This contradictory approach certainly works to Good’s favor, and showcases his versatility as a songwriter.
In other instances, however, Good’s attempts to speed up his compositions are not as elegant. His fast-paced interpretation of “Let’s Get It On” feels rushed, and is missing much of the dynamic nature that made the original so impactful. It is the only track on this EP that will likely annoy the listener.
Despite the disappointing version of “Let's Get It On,” the EP’s worst moments are those where Good does not even attempt to deviate from the character of the original songs. His new version of “Born to Kill” is thoroughly underwhelming compared to the 1999 version; the most redeeming part of the remake is the smooth production, which is perhaps a deliberate contrast to the original. While this was arguably one of the most memorable songs ever released by the Matthew Good Band, the new version brings almost nothing new into the picture. Unlike the climactic, abrasive, and explosive outro heard on Beautiful Midnight, this version whimpers to a close with a forgettable ending.
“I Miss New Wave” similarly does not live up to its full potential as a reinterpretation. Matthew Good’s vocals lack the desperation that pervaded the original track. Nevertheless, the newly crafted electric guitar parts help to make up for its lack of energy, and Good does a stellar job of injecting a more contemporary atmosphere into it through altered instrumentation.
Indeed, one of the most interesting features of this EP is the prevalence of alternate electric guitar parts on every track. New riffs and lead melodies add a substantial degree of ambience to the music and keep the listener engaged. Even on the weaker tracks, these additions, along with new keyboard soundscapes, blend elements of old and new in tasteful ways. Most importantly, Good manages to incorporate these without detracting from the original mood of the songs.
In terms of vocals, Good falls somewhat short of an impressive delivery. This could be partially due to the high standards set by his vocals on the original album. The distinctive, emotionally charged croons and yelps heard on Beautiful Midnight have been replaced by a duller, deeper, and less enthusiastic Matthew Good on many of the new versions. They are also less nuanced, and feature less melodic variation than the original tracks. This is understandable, due to the artist’s age and career, yet it still does not help the listener stay intrigued and compelled.
The most notable exception to this criticism is the EP’s closing track, “Load Me Up.” Originally a punk-inspired alternative rock song full of angst and energy, Good completely transforms the composition into a slow-burning country number, using a deeper voice to his advantage to add a new dimension to the classic single. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of the music of Neil Young and Johnny Cash, but it adds ringing electric guitar leads, echo-chamber effects, and soft production to add a unique ambience to the track. Matthew Good’s cold, detached vocal delivery adds to the dark quality of the instrumentation. The contradiction between the song’s lyrical themes and tone, as in “Suburbia,” highlight Good’s ability to produce music that evolves over time, taking on new appearances but ultimately communicating similar themes.
On Beautiful Midnight Revisited, Matthew Good is moderately successful at exploring new sonic territory through old material. It is bland in parts and awkward in others, but it also has moments in which Good positively extends the legacy of his aging music by re-introducing it in new and unique formats to new audiences.