Like many songs on the album, "What's The Matter Here?" is a powerful piece of social commentary, in this instance about child abuse. Natalie Merchant sings from the perspective of a woman how lives near a family that is abusing their young son. She deplores the abuse, but isn't sure what to do about it. Afraid to take action, she wants to confront the family and ask, "What's the Matter here?" but she doesn't dare.
The Suzanne Vega hit "Luka
," from a year earlier, has similar subject matter.