Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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10,000 Maniacs

  • Secrets of the I Ching [Christian Burial, 1984] B-
  • In My Tribe [Elektra, 1987] B-
  • Blind Man's Zoo [Elektra, 1989] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Secrets of the I Ching [Christian Burial, 1984]
True enough, these new-wave art-folkies don't sound like anybody else, including their kissing cousins in R.E.M. Reason one is Robert Buck on "principal guitars devices," all delightful space effects and airily elliptical hooks. But reason two is Natalie Merchant and her equally airy "voice." Not only does Natalie inflect the English language as if she grew up speaking some Polynesian tongue, but she writes lyrics to match, lyrics which from the crib sheet I'd adjudge the most sophomoric poetry-of-pretension to hit pop music since lysergic acid was in flower. Random stanza: "Patrons in attendance/To disarm a common myth/Homage paid to the victor of immortality/Cloaked in bold tones." Jesus. B-

In My Tribe [Elektra, 1987]
Natalie Merchant's nasal art-folk drawl isn't altogether intolerable, and her "Peace Train" cover sets up dippier expectations than her new lyrics deserve. Signalling her professionalism by deprivatizing her metaphors, she actually says something about illiteracy, today's army, and cruelty to children. In private, however, she remains a Cat Stevens fan with a nasal art-folk drawl. B-

Blind Man's Zoo [Elektra, 1989]
Natalie Merchant has her own prosaic prosody, with off-kilter guitar accentuating its eccentric undertow. The whole second side makes politics not love, and sometimes--like when the lottery-playing mom of "Dust Bowl" rubs her fevered youngest down with rubbing alcohol--she brings you there. But somehow I knew that when she got down to cases she'd still be a fuzzy-wuzzy. This is a woman whose song about Africa (called "Hateful Hate," now there's a resonant phrase) brushes by slavery on its way to elephanticide and ends up condemning "curiosity"--again and again. No wonder she won't listen to "common sense firm arguments." B-