10,000 Maniacs, "Eat for Two"

Nostalgia-based revisionism is usually helpful for clarifying our relationship to the past. In music, the cycle of events as they are being experienced is very different than how they appear in retrospect. To take a very 90s example, Stone Temple Pilot are both much less popular and somewhat more critically regarded than they were in their time. No one will mistake them for original, but no one spends time wringing hands over whether they are simply a Pearl Jam ripoff. They weren't; they were a good sight better than the lesser bands that actually were ripping off Nirvana and Pearl Jam; their lasting contribution is perhaps only six songs, but that's better than many bands can manage.

The omissions of that revisionism are also telling. 10,000 Maniacs were college rock mainstays in the late 80 and early 90s, and like their good friends in R.E.M., were a band whose popularity steadily increased. Unplugged, their last album together, was the height of their popularity, especially the then-ubiquitous cover of the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen song "Because the Night." Natalie Merchant, their lead singer, went on to a solo career, and her first album was something of a massive success.

Go and listen to Unplugged, or earlier efforts In My Tribe or Our Time in Eden, and 10,000 Maniacs seem an excellent candidate for revival: lots of well-constructed songs with solid melodies and interesting lyrics, all constructed with an evident lightness or playfulness. "Eat for Two," about an unintended pregnancy, could easily be a song that drowns in its own self-importance, but instead wisely varies the verses, pre-chorus, and chorus, all the better to keep the song light on its toes.

If there's anything that holds them back, it's the frequency with which social or political messages end up in the songs, which only makes me long for the late 80s/early 90s even more: the last time when musicians felt it necessary to speak about the socially-relevant dimensions of their own experience. There's another post for another time about how Rhythm Nation 1814 has more or less the same amount of political commentary as What's Going On, controlling for album length, etc, and these are hardly the only examples.

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