Natalie Merchant Is Featured On The Cover Of 10,000 Manicas' MTV unplugged Disc
This live recording acted as the original Maniacs’ swan song. Natalie Merchant departed after its release, and launched a solo career that started very promisingly. The Maniacs were to continue with viola player Mary Ramsey stepping in for Natalie. The MTV Unplugged disc was to produce the band’s one big hit, namely a cover of “Because The Night” that effectively became their calling card as far as casual listeners were (and are) concerned.
As I think you already know, I usually look askance at live albums. I do love live music, but I don’t enjoy listening to songs recorded live on a disc. Live music entails a communion that is not translated into digital tape. To me, a live album is only any good if you were there that day. It gives you the chance to relive what went down and do it all over again. Others might enjoy it, but enjoying something and being touched by something are two different things. But this particular live disc by the Maniacs is incredible – it is as enjoyable as it is touching. Maybe that is owing to the fact that they were going through the motions when they recorded it. The impending sense of separation might have given them a special cohesiveness that night. The fact is that as the first notes are strummed you feel such a sense of sadness and such a sense of joy that words will never suffice. The first song is “These Are Days”, and Natalie’s voice hints at the power she will unleash all through the concert
The setlist includes many songs from “Our Time In Eden” (“Candy Everybody Wants” is done delectably, and this version of “I’m Not The Man” makes me appreciate the studio take best) and “In My Tribe”. These include a lively “Like The Weather” with the percussion shining like a crazy diamond, and an effective “What’s The Matter Here” – I did never like the song, but Natalie provides such a realized delivery (especially the “and don’t you think/that I won’t use it” part) that it wins me over time and again. Continue reading →
I consider Natalie Merchant’s “Ophelia” as the point when her solo career really commenced. She had released an album before (1995’s “Tigerlily”), but that album was more like the closing of a stage than the start of a new one. Conversely, “Ophelia” (released in 1998) is her first truly realized artistic statement, using every device that she wants to use, and letting her own voice and musical vision dominate every single minute of the album.
In actuality, “Ophelia” was a multimedia project – the CD was accompanied by a short video, and stills from the film constitute the artwork of the album. A concept is clearly discernible, although there are songs like “King Of May” that deviate from the overall study of the famed Ophelia, a female figure par excellence, and an obvious choice for Natalie, someone always concerned about the way women are perceived and how these perceptions can end up being lies which are always true.
That is the theme of the album’s eponymous track, and the first thing you listen to when you play the CD. Incidentally, it will also be the last thing you will listen to – an orchestral reprise closes the album. The song studies the character of Ophelia all through history, her feats and the eventual disgraces those achievements were to bring about. The fate of Ophelia reminds me of the words of Yeats: “I’ve grown nothing/being all”. Is Natalie studying the role of women from a perspective that implies so much effort to be regarded as equal did nothing but accentuate differences that were actually small to begin with? And is the result of such a situation that women end up being relegated to submissive romantic roles, such as in the song “Frozen Charlotte”? Continue reading →
The CD Cover. Many Photos From The Same Shot Decorate The Booklet. This Is Easily The Less Appealing One.
In many ways, Natalie’s debut can be named “predictable”. That is, it has the share of compositions that the debut album of anybody who has been in a band for years will have – IE, songs which are not that detached from the original vision of the band. Yet, Natalie was the dominant voice within the Maniacs. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the Maniacs’ albums without Natalie are the ones were the influence is felt the most, as those albums (notwithstanding how excellent they are) seem overtly attached to Ms. Merchant’s approach and sensibility. Continue reading →
Along with Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant is the female figure in music that I am the fondest of. Born in 1963, she began her career as a founding member of the American band 10,000 Maniacs in the 80s. I have covered them extensively already, and the only thing I have to say is that they were an incredibly talented group to which Natalie made a fascinating contribution, and when she parted ways with them in the early 90s many a heart went down. But as it turned out, both The Maniacs and Natalie would retain their edge and keep on doing what they did best: writing and performing music that goes from heart to heart. Continue reading →
Released in 1987, “In My Tribe” was the first album by the Maniacs to garner both praise and good sales at the same time. It was no coincidence, as they showed a maturity and a deft touch when it came to dealing with sensitive issues such as the environment, illiteracy, violence towards women and children and also the role some institutions like marriage play out in life.
In a certain sense it could be said that some of the songs are preachy, but this is handled in a conciliatory way, without pointing fingers at anybody. Rather than saying “it is their fault” or “you are to blame” the songs seem to say that what happens in society and in life as a whole is attributed to everybody, and the answer must be a collective one. Maybe (and probably) inspired by a single individual, but the message is that only when we move in unison we can make some progress. Continue reading →
Released in 1990, this CD gathers together the first two EPs that this delicious American band released. The first one was entitled “Human Conflict Number 5” (1982) whereas the second went by the name of “Secrets Of The I Ching” (1983).
“Human Conflict Number 5” features a studio drummer named Jim Foti, whilst “Secrets Of The I Ching” marks Jerry’s debut as the Maniacs drummer, and his contribution does not go unnoticed. Both EPs also featured founding member John Lombardo, who set to music two poems from the doomed World War I poet Wilfred Owen. He even takes the lead in one of these (“Anthem For Doomed Youth”, one of Owen’s most anthologized pieces, and one of the album’s highlights as well). Continue reading →