If you had asked me what I knew of Natalie Merchant before I listened to this album, I would have told you I know she was the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs and I know she’s a featured vocalist on a couple of the Mermaid Avenue songs. That’s it.
Well, now I know better.
I know four of these songs and I had no idea. (The singles, obviously, plus the first song.) They must have just existed in the ether when I was a teenager, because I cannot recall anyone I know being a fan and I cannot recall the music videos. (Often with the forgotten music of my teens, I can remember the video once I hear the song again.) This familiarity with three of the songs undoubtedly helped me with the album, as I’m not sure it would have connected with me otherwise.
That’s not because of the songs. Merchant is clearly a talented songwriter. Though there is a bit of sense of repetition with the melodies from song to song, I can’t say they’re not catchy. A couple of the singles really do feel very close to “great” for me. And Merchant’s lyrics are above average, at least.
My biggest issue with the record is just how middle of the road the sound is. To be brief, it is extremely safe. This is just run of the mill ’90s folk rock and pop. It really has no sense of pretension or artiness. That’s fine for most people, I suspect (given the sales!) but, for me, I would prefer more quirk. Just a little more personality in the arrangements would really improve the album, in my opinion.
But the sound is otherwise good. This is not your typical mid ’90s singer songwriter record which is drowning in funky drummer and other ’90s cliches. And it does still sound fine all these years later.
All in all, a good set of songs, performed in a manner that just isn’t that interesting.