Our Time In Eden (Audio Fidelity)
By Brian Arsenault
The back cover of the album tells the story. Miss Merchant, as she is grandly titled on the liner notes, stands alone against the house looking in the direction of the band. Her lips are drawn straight, perhaps in a half smile, but her eyes are concealed by sunglasses. A picture of a sculpted hand breaks her gaze toward the band but none of them look toward her. They know. Our Time In Eden is the last studio album by 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant as lead singer and primary song writer.
She has stated that she no longer wishes to be involved in “creativity by committee,” an odd thing for any musician or singer to say unless wishing to sing only a cappella, and particularly odd for “Miss Merchant” to say, as the band always sounded as if it was created only to back her vocals, although it wasn’t. She was the teen brought in to help with vocals who subsumed the band in her enormous talent.
It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since this album was released, now remastered and reissued by Audio Fidelity. And on vinyl no less. I just hope there are still enough LP turntables extant for a new generation to listen by and faithful fans to replace their undoubtedly worn originals.
“These Are Days” of course has become a classic tune, still getting radio airplay, not to mention airings at who knows how many graduations, weddings, reunions – events of all kinds that we remember or wish to. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s one of just a couple “positive” songs on an album full of angst and anger and melancholy. “How You’ve Grown” is the other. Though a bit plaintive, it still touches anyone who has or ever has had a little girl in their lives, changing, changing, changing.
“Every time we say goodbye you’re frozen in my mind as the child that you never will be again.”
Perhaps the little girl at the center of the song now has one of her own.
“Candy Everybody Wants” still snarls at mass culture and was written well before so-called reality television. “Tolerance” bemoans the lack thereof. “Gold Rush Brides” mourns the losses of pioneer women and not just the children buried beneath the prairies.
The lyrics are intelligent. Natalie (may I take the liberty of using her first name) is never shoddy in her song writing. If anything, the lyrics sometimes seem to get in the way of the music. It is rock ‘n roll, after all, isn’t it? Do you mind if we dance or is that too Dick Clark of me?
I have to be careful here. I have a son and a daughter who place Miss Merchant very high in their pantheon of musical heroes. Truth is so do I, but I feel a little bit now as I did then. Could we lighten up? Just a little bit?
Still, there is so much to like here in the Era of Bieber and a new collection of vapid boy bands. The band is tight and drummer Jerome Augustyniak plays particularly well on this album. The addition of JB’s (yes James Brown’s) Horns, Mary Ramsey’s violin on a couple songs, and other guests expanded the rather limited range of the Maniacs.
And the lyrics. Always the lyrics. Someone once said of an early collection of Hemingway short stories that they were like a scattering of fine jewels. That works for me here.
Then there’s the vinyl. How satisfying to gently place it on the turntable and even more gently lower the needle. How wonderful to listen to a great Side 1 and look forward to a Side 2. Did I even hear a small imperfection or two on one song? (I won’t say which, maybe you’ll hear it too.)
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Brian Arsenault’s new Kindle ebook,
November and Other Tales, a novella
and a collection of short stories, has
just been published. To check it out,
and read a few pages, click HERE or
on the book cover.