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Tigerlily is the debut solo album by former 10,000 Maniacs lead singer Natalie Merchant and was released in 1995. The album is generally well regarded and not a million miles away from the records she made with her former group. Perhaps not always quite so melodic (understandable as she was working with different musicians now) and more introspective and solemn at times but if you are a fan of 10,000 Maniacs you should enjoy this and there are some wonderful Natalie Merchant vocals on the album. San Andreas Fault begins Tigerlily and is one of the best songs. A bittersweet tale of someone moving to seek their fame and fortune but will they find the streets paved with gold? "Go west, paradise is there, you'll have all that you can eat of milk and honey over there, You'll be the brightest star, the world has ever seen, sun-baked slender heroine, of film and magazine." Natalie Merchant uses a wonderful falsetto here and the drums that drive the song are very effective. It's a very laid-back song with a slightly hypnotic beat. What I like about this song is the way that just when you think you've heard all that it has to offer, Natalie Merchant chimes in with a new chorus that sounds incredibly haunting and catchy and lifts everything up a few notches. The second song - Wonder - was (I presume) a single and probably the most immediate song on the album. It's very upbeat and poppy and Natalie Merchant's trademark nasal warble (sorry, I couldn't think of a better description) is adorable here at times. The song shifts gear a few times and layers in a new chorus so it never runs the risk of becoming dull despite the longish running time of four and a half minutes. The lyrics are rather vague here but seem to be about happiness and how confounding it can be to people if someone claims to have found it. It's a big flowery pop song and a lot of fun.
Beloved Wife is a slightly more melodramatic song with a huskier than usual vocal and more orchestration as a backdrop. It's impressive but came across as a little too one paced to me at times and never really held my attention in the way that many other songs on this album did. River is a tribute to the late actor River Phoenix (he was a friend of Natalie Merchant) who had only fairly recently died at the time from a drugs overdose at the age of 23. It's quite melodramatic but not a gloomy song. Somewhat upbeat and melodic with a soaring vocal. "Why don't you let him be? He's gone we know, give his mother and father peace, your vulture's candor, your casual slander will murder his memory, he's gone, we know, and it's nothing but a tragedy." A good song but not quite a classic. The next song is called Carnival. I think this was the first single from the album but I'm not completely sure. If it was though you can understand why it was chosen. It starts in slightly rambling fashion but becomes catchier as it progresses and the chorus is nice with backing vocals by Katell Keineg. I do though find that this song has no major pay off. You wait for some amazing hook or melody to kick in but it never quite does. On a strange note of trivia, this was a favourite song of serial killer Aileen Wuornos and was played at her funeral. Despite being unable to watch the film because she found the subject matter too disturbing, Natalie Merchant eventually consented to the use of the song in Nick Broomfield's documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer after learning that Wuornos listened to Tigerlily constantly while on death row.
I May Know The Word is a languid song that builds with a warbly vocal and some nice guitar jingle jangle into a heartfelt chorus where Natalie Merchant sings wonderfully. At eight minutes though this is perhaps a bit too long for its own good. The Letter is a genuine piano weepie. It only lasts for a few minutes but is one of the most affecting things on the album. Natalie Merchant's hushed vocal is wonderful. The song is about unrequited love I think. The narrator imagining a letter she would write to the object of her affection. "But if I write this letter, the truth it would reveal, knowing you brought me pleasure, how often I'll treasure, moments that we knew, the precious and the few." Cowboy Romance is another laid back gentle song with an almost whispered vocal. Thee are some lovely violins on his as Natalie Merchant spins out a typically Merchant-esque vocal. "A drunken meet up in a crude saloon, a poor rocky mountain town, he's a scoundrel and she's no pearl, together they are two lovers cruel." Jealousy is a mid-tempo song with quite a nice rhythm and more of a conventional vocal by Natalie Merchant. It's nothing amazing but quite nice and feels somewhat refreshing in amongst some of the gloom. The lyric is a fairly simple one with the narrator consumed by jealously. "Does she talk the way I do, is her voice reminding you of the promises, the little white lies too, sometimes, tell me, while she's touching you, just by mistake, accidentally do you say my name?"
Where I Go is a song about a river where the narrator goes to escape from the hustle and bustle and worries of the modern world. It's fairly simple and never really goes anywhere, ambling along in fourth gear. The guitars sounded a bit twee here too to me anyway. This felt a bit like a filler song and more like b-side material. Finally, there is Seven Years, a sprawling epic to end the album. The song has the narrator looking back on a lost love that lasted for seven years but ended when she was betrayed. "There was no measuring, far above this dirty world, far above everything, in your tower over it, you were clean, So warm and insightful, were you in my eyes, I was sure the rightful." It begins as a sort of piano weepie but becomes progressively louder with orchestration before moving into a third act that includes distorted electric guitars. Full marks for effort but this song never quite came together for me and isn't my favourite thing here by any stretch of the imagination. Tigerlily is always cosy and familiar enough for those acquainted with 10,000 Maniacs and certainly recommended for fans of the singer. I think it was wise not to include too many songs and keep the play list to a minimum. This could have been a mess with too many songs and experiments but it always feels quite precise and to the point. There are a couple of forgettable songs here but overall this is a solid and at times wonderful debut solo record that misses out on being a classic but is still highly impressive all the same.