10,000 MANIACS: MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE (2013)
1) I Don't Love You Too; 2) When We Walked On Clouds; 3) Gold; 4) Triangles; 5) Live For The Time Of Your Life; 6) It's A Beautiful Life; 7) Whippoorwill; 8) Fine Line; 9) Tiny Arrows; 10) Downhill; 11) Chautauqua Moon.
Okay, so I promised to let you know, after all, and yes, our favorite band, Ten Billion Maniacs, are back with a brand new album, although maybe not even all the fans know of its existence. Yes, three of the original members (the rhythm section and Dennis Drew on keyboards) still remain, and, after a long period of absence, Mary Ramsey is back, too. The late Robert Buck has been replaced by Jeff Erickson, who not only handles the guitar duties, but also sings lead vocals on a couple of numbers — is that a first for the band or what?
Those who actually liked Love Among The Ruins, the band's friendly, but uninspired attempt at carrying on after the loss of Merchant, will be pleased to know that very little has changed — as of the early 2010s, guess what? they are still busy writing and recording friendly, but uninspired music. Mary Ramsey sounds warm and lovable, more like a young happy mother cuddling her child than a moody, insecure, guilt-ridden young girl; and her violin always stays in tune with her vocals. The guitars and keyboards breathe with folksy life, never subject to overproduction or encumbered with smart modern sound effects. Even Dennis Drew, at liberty to do what he wants, gets a lead vocal on the somberly waltzing ʽDownhillʼ, and it's a likable middle-aged «croak» (or «quack»?) that fits the song's mood perfectly. So?..
So the only problem is that, just like before, the individual songs never stick. Every second is more or less equally «pretty» as every next or preceding one, and if this band never «tore it up» when it was young, why should we even expect that it could add more dynamism when it got old? The overall genteel atmosphere knocks on your door with the opening seconds of ʽI Don't Love You Tooʼ (a message expressed by Ramsey with the outmost courteousness and gallantry) and fizzles away with the closing seconds of ʽChautaqua Moonʼ (a little chamber chat between violin and viola, probably overdubbed by Mary as she is credited for both). And rarely shifts to anything else, and practically never congeals into any memorable hooks.
On ʽIt's A Beautiful Lifeʼ, they dabble in a bit of experimentation, changing from folk-pop to reggae-pop, while the lyrics of the song present a slightly reworked version of ʽBig Rock Candy Mountainʼ. They pull it off without embarrassment, but reggae is a limiting form by itself, and they have no time or strength to do anything «special» with it other than offering a brief repose from the more standard formula. Other than that, I think I could only loosely single out ʽWhen We Walked On Cloudsʼ, with its focus on fast acoustic picking, «cloudy» organ background, and dreamy nostalgic singing, as a humble highlight that produces a «deeper» feeling than anything else on the album. But only loosely.
That said, I reiterate that the band still sounds adorable, and, at any rate, more enamored of and more sensitive towards this kind of music than most indie bands of the 21st century trying out this pastoral, idyllic, inoffensive brand of folk-rock. It might, indeed, be even better than Love Among The Ruins, since the band has aged and wisened up, and 10,000 Maniacs always tried to sound like they were «so much older then», and now they're sort of getting adequate, even if they do it at the expense of a near-total loss of songwriting skill. (Okay, I'm just beginning to get something back from the ringing electric riffs of ʽWhippoorwhillʼ... but it's such a thin, «wimpy» sound, it's going to take a while to woo these ears).
Anyway, no thumbs up, no thumbs down — strictly for the fans, but if you're a fan, seek it out while there still remains a micro-blip of it on the news radar. And that title: it's almost as if they knew they were releasing an album designed strictly for background listening!
Check "Music From The Motion Picture" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Music From The Motion Picture" (MP3) on Amazon