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Friday, March 18, 2011

10,000 Maniacs: Our Time In Eden


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).


Check "Our Time In Eden" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Our Time In Eden" (MP3) on Amazon

3 comments:

  1. Besides the Wishing Chair, I find this to be the Maniacs album that I revisit most often. I just like the sound of it — echoey, jangly guitars or fake "white people funky" horn sections. Previous albums — that may have better highlights— just weren't as consistent as Eden.

    ~Austin

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  2. I'm surprised that you got through this review without nary a mention of "These Are Days", the only song the Maniacs ever had that topped a Billboard chart. I can understand *why* you avoided it - it's probably the one trace left of bouncy, socially-conscious pop rock that you hint at - but I find it fascinating from a introspective-analytical standpoint given that *no* one knew at the time of release that it would be their last album together with Natalie, and it's one of a very few songs that I KNOW I can turn to when I'm in need of an emotional pick-me-up. (Sometimes saccharine brightness has its virtues.)

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  3. Probably the best of the Maniacs' studio albums. It's the slickest, I'd say, with little of the folkie influence of the early records. But the songwriting is, as someone else said, the most consistent. Highlights for me are the touching bit of feminist history, "Gold Dust Brides"; the preachy-yet-catchy "Candy Everyone Wants" (which seems odd for a band who didn't object to MTV); the scary "I'm Not the Man" (an anti-capital punishment screed, no doubt); and the awesome "These Are Days", which has a powerful optimism that is unique in the Maniacs' work.

    Still, with Merchant writing over half the songs herself, it's no surprise that a solo career was inevitable. Still, at least she went out on a high note with them.

    Bob

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