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Our Time in Eden is a 1992 album by the cult American group 10,000 Maniacs (who are sort of like REM meets Joni Mitchell meets The Smiths). This was the last studio album featuring original lead singer Natalie Merchant and so for all intents and purposes the last bona fide 10,000 Maniacs album. The album begins with Noah's Dove, a piano driven weepie that runs to well over four minutes. This is an impressive way to begin the record and it works quite well too to have this as the start of the album rather than near the end as you would ordinarily expect from a song of this type. It's like Suede starting Dog Man Star with Still Life but not a bad idea at all. The vocal performance of the lead singer is at once very engaging and heartfelt and the lyrics are always decent enough. "In that August breeze, of those forgotten trees, your time was set for leaving, come a colder season, In your reckless mind." While the music is always very good I do think that the major part of the appeal of 10,000 Maniacs was the singing of Natalie Merchant. Without her lungs they might have run the risk of seeming too middle of the road and generic sometimes. The next song, These Are the Days, is one of 10,000 Maniacs most famous songs and the sort of thing you'd choose as a first single off the album to play on the radio. This song is both uplifting and immediate and the soaring vocal performance of Natalie Merchant is highly impressive. Because of her warbly folky strains there is a risk she could end up sounding the same on every album but she is versatile and talented enough to never make this a factor. If anything, I'm always impressed by the way she can sound delicate on one song and then powerful on the next. This is an excellent song though and one of the group's staple anthems.
Eden is a warbly waltzer with intricate guitars and a classic frog in throat Merchant vocal that is very dexterous and effective. It's a really good song and regarded to be one of their very best but it isn't quite one of my favourites out of all the songs by this group I've listened to so far. There is something too mid-tempo about Eden and the music sounds too lightweight at times. I know 10,000 Maniacs are not supposed to be The Sex Pistols but this song always feels as if it needs something more to hang onto and a few more tangents and diversions along the way. The lyrics are again enjoyable though and a notch above the usual nonsense you get from most lyricists. "We are the roses in the garden Beauty with thorns among our leaves, To pick a rose you ask your hands to bleed, What is the reason for having roses When your blood is shed carelessly? It must be for something, more than vanity." Few And Far Between is decent three minute song and the closest thing 10,000 Maniacs will get to a rabble rouser. Natalie Merchant has real timbre and depth to her voice here and there is a pounding drum and some trumpets (which could easily be annoying but help to drive the song along). Stockton Gala Days is the most purely hippy folk sounding song on the album with Merchant doing her tremulous warbler thing with some pretty and atmospheric violins in the background. It's quite a nice song and has a sort of country fairground feel and atmosphere.
Gold Rush Brides is an attractive song but maybe a little too laid back and lackadaisical for its own good at times. Merchant's vocal is a thing of beauty though and her lyrics are nice again. "Follow the typical signs, the hand-painted lines Down prairie roads, pass the lone church spire, Pass the talking wire from where to who knows? There's no way to divide the beauty of the sky From the wild western plains Where a man could drift, in legendary myth by roaming over spaces." Jezebel has strings, piano and a full blown orchestra - not to mention another fine vocal from Natalie Merchant. Her vocal becomes increasingly heartfelt and melodramatic here to great effect. This is one of the tender epics that frames the album and a superior piece of songwriting. How You've Grown is a pretty introspective song with another haunting and emotional vocal by Natalie Merchant. The slower songs, when they arrive, are frequently sublime on this album. I like the dreamy other worldly aura that this song manages to generate and express. Candy Everybody Wants is not bad at all and a faster song with piano. It isn't my favourite thing here but Natalie Merchant lifts it all up a few notches with another sterling vocal display. Many of these songs are designed to take on a life of their own when performed live but the studio production is always highly polished and unobtrusive.
Tolerance is pretty good. This has a catchy upbeat feel but then has more introspective and stranger interludes and all are perfectly surfed by Natalie Merchant's voice. Once again her lyrics are still endearingly poetic and pretentious and paint some nice images. "The still and silence is torn with violence A loud breaking sound in the night is made Hear it grow, hear it fade, The sound you're hearing, the sound you're fearing Is the hate that parades up and down our streets Coming within bounds and within reach." Circle Dream is a lovely song with jingle jangle guitars that has another wonderful vocal by Merchant and a summery flower strewn hippy Joni Mitchell aura. The simplicity of the song works greatly in its favour and its always to the advantage of the group to have Merchant's voice front and centre. If You Intend is not bad a much faster song than normal although it does veer into that generic 10,000 maniacs territory where if they flirted with it too often all of their songs would end up sounding the same. Still a decent poppy fusion though. Finally, I'm Not the Man finds Merchant narrating as a black man falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death. This song has brooding bassoons and a real sense of dread. Not a bad way to end the album. Our Time in Eden is pretty much what you would expect from Merchant era 10,000 Maniacs and largely excellent. There are three or four songs that are immediate and catchy and some classic slower ones. This isn't completely perfect but it's better than most records you'd hear from any period and the vocals are always wonderful.
10,000 Maniacs were a American 'alternative' rock group fronted by sassy Natalie Merchant. Formed in 1981 Merchant was the singer until 1992. This is the last album to feature her as lead vocalist. Merchant's voice is very distinctive and is one of the key feature's of the group's work. She has a vibrant, throaty frog-burping style. Her accent is difficult to distinguish - she avoids that generic mid-western style that so many artists assume - and she has a curious way of pronouncing certain vowel sounds. She also seems to have a subtle speech impediment whilst singing - an inability to pronounce her 'r's', which is quite unique and gives the effect of childlike mouthing.
In my experience of hearing this album as well as the group's breakthrough album 'In My Tribe' I have found the nature of their music to be a blend of intelligent, poetic, politically informed lyrics and colourful, creative, cleverly structured rock music. This particular album is steeped in ideas regarding religion and human existence. The range of musical styles involved include a dreamy romanticism to an intimidating, dark and heavy rock.
There are thirteen tracks on the album. We start with 'Noah's Dove' which has a distinct, slightly wisftful piano melody that drives the sound. Merchant sounds relaxed and her presence is soothing. The title refers to how she sees her lover and how his 'pure eyes' remind her of this biblical bird. The lyrics are incredibly beautiful and heartfelt.
'These are days' is a more upbeat number, having an upbeat summery style and brisk rhythm. Merchant sings in a higher key and her voice sounds lighter and brighter. A layered vocal also boosts the mood. The lyrics refer to good times and happiness. It's definately a feel good track.
'Eden' is a beautiful, dreamy track. The music has a watery feel, an onward flow that feels very natural and peacful. The lyrics are almost abstract but are a blend of expressions and phrases which conjure up a vision of a heavenly garden.
'Few an Far Between' is a bouncy, fast paced track. Although very boistrous and lively the melody is not particularly engaging and the lyrics are a little vague. It is possibly a rant against a lover or a self-admonishing song.
'Stockton Gala Days' and 'Gold Rush Brides' are similar tracks which vie for superiority. The first song sees a trip down Memory Lane to an adyllic childhood where the little girls were affected by "wildflower fever". The melody is very catchy and affecting. The latter song is more morose in tone and whislt there is an allusion to feminity again it is definately more mature in nature.
'Jezebel' is a dramatic track that has an almost theatrical style. The verses are tight and shadowy, Merchant whispering a morose lyric about pain and suffering. She compares herself to a "bed of blackened coal" at one point. The chorus breaks out as a mad release of emotion. The figure in the track is very damaged and the music, lyrics and vocal performance do a great job in conveying this.
'How You've Grown' is a gentle, folky track that features Merchant and a piano until mid-track. It reminds me of artists like Delta Goodrem. The lyrics are rather self-indulgent and refer to childhood memories.
'Candy Everybody Wants' is an oddly upbeat song that seems to throw a v-sign to the secret evil nature in mankind. The bouyant style of the music is incongruent with the sarcastic lyrics which attack the desire of men to indulge in nastiness and cruelty. A great live duet version of this was recorded with REM singer Michael Stipe.
'Tolerance' is a dark, moody track charting how it feels to be overtaken by violence and what the long term results of abuse really is.
'Circle Dream' is perhaps the weakest track on the album. Folk-like in nature this is like a throwback to Joni Mitchell's era except the song offers nothing new or exciting. The lyrics are repetitive and hypnotic with the hookline: "I dreamed of a circle" becoming slightly annoying rather than calming.
'If you intend' is an upbeat track which has a sense of urgency in the quick pace and Merchant's pleading tone. The lyrics are intended to impel action and positivity in listeners.
'I'm not the man' is a rather gloomy ending to what overall is a beautiful, flowery album. The theme of this epic track is false imprisonment and the terrible implications of being accused of murder. Obviously, this rather upsetting track and it is not subtle in it's message. The main character in the song says "I wait on the row for the man to test the rope that he'll slip around my throat...". Of course, this is typical 10,000 Maniac's territory and the song is executed (pardon the pun) very well.
Overall this is a brilliant album that has been one of my favourites for years. For those new to the group Merchant's amazing, distinctive voice may take some getting used to but you may, like I did, find yourself entranced by her curious mannerisms and performance quirks. This album provides an abundance of ideas and themes combined with well-written and emotionally driven music. An excellent production and an outstanding farewell performance by Natalie Merchant.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Noah's Dove
2 These Are Days
4 Few And Far Between
5 Stockton Gala Days
6 Gold Rush Brides
8 How You've Grown
9 Candy Everybody Wants
11 Circle Dream
12 If You Intend
13 I'm Not The Man