10,000 MANIACS: OUR TIME IN EDEN (1992)
1) Noah's Dove; 2) These Are Days; 3) Eden; 4) Few And Far Between; 5) Stockton Gala Days; 6) Gold Rush Brides; 7) Jezebel; 8) How You've Grown; 9) Candy Everybody Wants; 10) Tolerance; 11) Circle Dream; 12) If You Intend; 13) I'm Not The Man.
Merchant's last studio album with the Maniacs is a bit of an enigma. In all respects, it feels terribly, almost excruciatingly mature. Earlier on, you could justify your bad attitude towards the band by laughing at the simplistic grey melodies, or poking fun at the preachy lyrics, or ironically dismissing Natalie's half-spoken poetry-bent vocals. Our Time In Eden is hardly more enjoyable than any other of their albums — same old problems all over the place — but it's their one record that I, for one, find absolutely impossible to laugh off.
Virtually no traces left here of the once bouncy, pop-rock-driven band that liked to deliver a socially conscious message like a bunch of frenzied schoolchildren. Even the fast tempos are driven mostly through somber moods, with the guitarists laying on echoes, low keyboard notes high up in the mix, and Merchant, for most of the time, assuming a wisened-up world-weary tone. Furthermore, the lyrics have taken a turn for the disturbingly personal, and even the socially conscious bits are veiled. 'I'm Not The Man' is by far the only song here that usually receives a literal interpretation — a song about an unjustly jailed and executed person — but it does not really come across as anything other than just another metaphor, a comparison of her own inner tribulations with the feelings of an I'm-not-the-man kind of person.
Also, growth and development abound as the band, once again, brings in a swarm of outside musicians to beef up the sound (including Merchant's later replacement, Mary Ramsey, on violin), and even goes for an R'n'B-type approach, with prominent horns and dance rhythms, on two of the tracks ('Few And Far Between' and 'Candy Everybody Wants' — still dark dance tunes, if you ask me), which they were smart enough to release as singles, because, heck, even nerdy college students that form the bulk of this band's audience like to move it sometimes.
Nothing, however, changes the golden rule: each single 10,000 Maniacs album sounds pretty, but contains only one or two truly treasurable songs surrounded by the Idea of Prettiness (And Depth), unattached to a material object. Here, the only two songs I could ever latch on were 'Stockton Gala Days', a grand nostalgic trip to somewhere highlighted by a very special enunciation of the line "...you'll never know!" (well, if you say so); and the above-mentioned 'I'm Not The Man', which was fortunate enough to combine Merchant's somber singing with an equally somber supporting line from a bassoon — almost spine-tingling, in a way, if you manage to set your spine in the proper tingle-ready position. Everything else, even the dance tunes, just spins around. Intelligently.
Still, dumb-good or dumb-bad, I go with a thumbs up, if only because I may not like this record, but it is the one 10,000 Maniacs record I would like to like. Melodic hooks aren't everything, after all, and even if, after a while, Out Of Eden stops dead in its tracks growing on you, there still lingers some strange, unexplainable goodness about it — like that neighbor girl with her plainest of plain faces, simplest of simple clothes, predictable attitudes, humble disposition, going around every day concentrated on minding her business; most likely, you'll never propose to her, but you're sure gonna miss her if she goes. (And I mean this as a musical metaphor — do not take this as an indirect evaluation of Natalie Merchant's sex appeal, which is an altogether different matter. Fairly complex, too).
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