My favorite 100 albums of all time: #57 ("Our Time in Eden")
I like a lot of the Natalie Merchant-era 10,000 Maniacs catalog, her final studio album with the band is far and away my favorite. Our Time in Eden is a lush, mature album that sounds as fresh today as it did on its release in 1992.
If you were listening to the radio in 1992, or MTV, you couldn't really miss 10,000 Maniacs. The singles off Eden were all over the airwaves, with "Candy Everybody Wants" and "These Are The Days" providing irresistible pop goodness.
"Candy" and "Days" were undeniably radio-friendly and ready for mass audiences. Upbeat tunes with precise, full arrangements. And then there's Merchant's voice, which is simply wonderful.
Merchant has a rich, contralto voice that's warm and lusty, and she uses it to its full effect on Our Time in Eden. And she wasn't limited to sounding good in the studio, either. I had the good fortune to see 10,000 Maniacs in 1993 while touring for Eden at the Riverport Ampitheatre, and she sounded just as amazing (if not more so) live.
The song that always stops me cold is "Jezebel," a song about being in the wrong relationship – torn between not wanting to hurt the other person and realizing you've mistaken "one [love] for thousands of words."
There's nothing quite like realizing you care immensely for someone, have tried to make it work, but just can't quite bridge the gulf to being in love with them. Merchant manages to capture and express this feeling, and that offers a little respite if you've ever been there yourself.
It may be unfair to the band, but I've never bothered to check out any of the post-Merchant output from 10,000 Maniacs. The band's best output (In My Tribe, Blind Man's Zoo and Eden) consists of songs written or co-written by Merchant, and (of course) sung by Merchant. Whatever the group has delivered since may be well done, but it seems to me that Merchant was the heart and soul of the group.