[6] 10,000 Maniacs, ‘What’s The Matter Here?’

A song about child abuse, and the powerlessness and denial of living next door. Not one for Junior to boogie around to, then, so I left her sitting quietly while I became reacquainted with the record. She was much more interested in the email mum was sending to her boss, anyway.

Natalie Merchant had a voice that only Michael Stipe could love, allegedly, although its ticks and quirks interested me today. In this song, she uses the beat to punctuate her words and it makes an uncomfortable whip-crack effect. She’s telling a story at the start, then in the middle eight she adopts the voice of the abuser and alternates between quiet menace and swooping anger. In the last verse, she gives vent to the bafflement we’d all feel as neighbours and the result is rousing. Packs a punch, this.

When I bought this (a 3-inch CD single, nostalgia buffs), it was the tune I loved while I allowed myself a suitably serious nod towards the content. It gets more unsettling as you get older, even if the cynical adult is inclined to notice triteness in the lyrics. For all the brow-beating, hectoring and polemic across their albums, at least they give it a melody here.

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