The Upshot: Mega-selling mid-Nineties “classic” from the 10000 Maniacs frontgal maintains its own occasional merits, if not offering much else even as an expanded edition.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Natalie Merchant’s always seemed to know precisely what it is she wants, even when it seems to go against the grain. The music she made with 10000 Maniacs was notably free of the pretence and posturing that infected much of what was heard throughout the ‘80s. Her willowy presence and penchant for twirling defied the whole notion of an assertive front person at the head of the fray. Despite the success of her solo career, she’s made some less than obvious detours, including an entire album wholly devoted to obscure literary influences. Likewise, her latest effort is really a remake of the earliest album she made on her own following her departure from 10000 Maniacs, a collection that features rerecorded versions of the entire Tigerlily album, considered by many to be the best record of her career.
The question then becomes why Merchant would want to retrace her roots. Indeed, Tigerlily was such an expressive set to begin with — naked, vulnerable and filled with heartfelt expression. In her self-penned liner notes, she says that she finds her voice so much stronger now than it was back then, and that her confidence in the studio and ability to rework the arrangements allows her to better bring these songs — many of which remain a staple of her live set — to greater fruition. Yet, in listening to the album in its original form and to its remake side by side, there’s a certain unabashed honesty present in the original work that seems glossed over this time around. The instrumentation is more oblique and what was mellow to begin with feels even softer and less emphatic now. The album’s best tracks — “Carnival,” “Wonder” and “River” in particular — still resonate, but they also lack the punch, however raw and unfiltered, that accompanied original renditions offered.
Still, one can’t blame Merchant for wishing to redo something so seminal. After all, how many people wouldn’t want to do the same, especially if they were able to tweak the product of their youthful inexperience. The DVD documentary that accompanies the album also offers additional insights that help to explain her reasoning, but given that Merchant is such a discriminating artist, she deserves the benefit of any doubt to begin with. Ultimately, one great album deserves another…even if it’s a redux.
DOWNLOAD: “Carnival,” “Wonder,” “River”