Sunday, January 12, 2014

Come on now, try and understand...

Artist: 10,000 Maniacs
Album: MTV Unplugged
Released: October 26, 1993

This is my first discussion of a live album.  Typically I'm not a big fan of live albums, as a live recorded version of a song usually isn't as good as the original recording is.  The sound quality typically isn't as good and the crowd noise distorts the music.  And, when I hear two different versions of the same song, they tend to amalgamate in my mind and that gets irritating.  So, I will listen to live albums of artists that I like, but I don't always enjoy them.

However, this is one that I really enjoy, and it might be my favorite.  Back in the earlier days of MTV (when the "M" actually stood for "music"), a lot of bands would appear on MTV Unplugged and promote their music by playing acoustic versions of their songs.  10,000 Maniacs appeared on the show in 1993, shortly before singer Natalie Merchant left to pursue a solo career.  Of the fourteen songs that are on this album, seven are from their most recent (at the time) album, Our Time in Eden.  In a way, it's unfortunate that Natalie left shortly after this, because the band seemed to be at their peak with Our Time in Eden.

Most of the tracks on this album are at least "almost as good" as the originals.  Out of the fourteen tracks, there are only two that I think are significantly better on the original albums.  "Candy Everybody Wants" is an interesting and also edgy song.  Replacing the horn parts with vocals makes for a decent sound, but it loses that edge without the horns.  The other track is "Noah's Dove", which is more mellow here than on Our Time in Eden.  "Noah's Dove" is an amazing and beautiful song, but this version just doesn't pull me in the same way.

There are a lot of good tracks here, but two stand out.  One is their cover of Patti Smith's "Because the Night", which has received a lot of radio play over the years.  They totally knocked this one out of the park.  The other is "Don't Talk"; they just did an amazing job with this recording, especially with the cello part at the end.  My favorite besides this is "These Are Days"; it's always an uplifting song, no matter which version.  I think I slightly prefer this version to the regular, though it's the first track and the audience cheers a couple of times during the performance.

Overall there's a great mix of upbeat ("Hey Jack Kerouac", "Like the Weather", "Jezebel", "Stockton Gala Days", "Candy Everybody Wants") and low key ("Eat for Two", "I'm Not the Man", "Trouble Me", "Noah's Dove") tracks.  My two least favorite tracks are "What's the Matter Here?" and "Gold Rush Brides", which are back to back right in the middle.  The former is strained and drawn out, while the latter is low key and at times sounds like it has potential, but just never fully develops.  Neither one is among my favorite 10,000 Maniacs songs under the normal version, either.

Bottom line, if you have never listened to 10,000 Maniacs, you're really missing out.  I always thought they were talented and featured a nice variety of songs.  And of course, Natalie Merchant's voice is awesome.  I especially recommend Our Time in Eden, which I'll probably discuss more later, but their MTV Unplugged album is very enjoyable too.

Track #, Name of Song, Duration, My Rating
1. These Are Days (4:22) - 9/10
2. Eat for Two (4:12) - 8/10
3. Candy Everybody Wants (3:19) - 9/10
4. I'm Not the Man (3:46) - 8/10
5. Don't Talk (5:22) - 10/10
6. Hey Jack Kerouac (3:29) - 9/10
7. What's the Matter Here? (4:50) - 7/10
8. Gold Rush Brides (4:12) - 7/10
9. Like the Weather (4:15) - 9/10
10. Trouble Me (3:40) - 9/10
11. Jezebel (4:20) - 9/10
12. Because the Night (3:44) - 10/10
13. Stockton Gala Days (5:25) - 9/10
14. Noah's Dove (5:07) - 8/10

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