Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Song for a Crappy Tuesday

I am about to commit Alt-Culture heresy. The following confession is a feeling I have harbored for years, only revealing to those closest to me for fear that my Alternative Card will be revoked. It is something so simple, and you might think it's nothing at all, but when I've admitted it to others, the reaction is usually one of suspicious disgust.

I don't like Natalie Merchant.

I like the 10,000 Maniacs just fine, if for no other reason than they have one the Top Ten best band names of all time. "Like the Weather" and "Trouble Me" are great rainy day background music singles. Nothing too hot, nothing too cold. Songs that might get a "Hey, I remember this song!" or "Wow, I like this tune...can't remember the last time I heard it." In the world of early Alternative Music (in the days when there actually WAS alternative), 10,000 Maniacs mingled nicely on a mixtape with The Smiths, Suzanne Vega, and Buzzcocks. "Like the Weather" was just a weigh station on the way to "Ever Fallen in Love."

But I don't like Natalie Merchant. Not in a house. Not with mouse. Not with Socks. Not next to Buzzcocks.

I'm sure she's a nice enough person. This is not about personality. I don't know the lady. It's her voice, her interpretation, the limited range of feeling. Its the fact that I am bored to absolute tears when any of her solo stuff comes on the radio.

As a backup singer she does great. The Billy Bragg & Wilco collaboration "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" features Merchant in the backing vocals and it's quite lovely. But, like pasta, or white bread, or rice pilaf, she is just there as a component to a larger meal.

Don't get me wrong. I don't HATE Natalie Merchant, like I think it's impossible to HATE saltine crackers. I just don't like her voice.

Part of my distaste springs from the 10,000 Maniacs cover of "Because the Night", a song originally released by the Patti Smith Group in 1978 off the album Easter. The song is the result of a collaboration between Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen. He had recorded a slightly different version and, when it wasn't added to his album, she took it, reworked it and released it.

It is one of my favorite songs of all time.

Back in '93 (The years between '89-'92 gonged the death knell for "alternative" as we knew it, with the release of The Cure's "Lovesong" getting major airplay across the country. It was what we always shamefully craved and openly despised - acceptance from the mainstream. There was a Time magazine cover announcing the introduction of "alternative" to the mainstream, depicting the painting American Gothic with lopsided haircuts and earrings. And when Time magazine makes its proclamation, you know it's over.) the Maniacs cover hit the airwaves, I had not heard the original and so underwhelmed was I by the single that I changed the station whenever it came played.

A few years later, at a party, Easter was played and "Because the Night" rumbled on.


Patti Smith's version is the antithesis of Merchant's. Merchant's voice is calm and, you know, sorta "whatever".

"Because the Night" is about longing, lust, sex, and craving (the big stuff) and Smith is a force of nature, an artist who has collaborated with the likes of Springsteen and Sam Shepard. Her influence is far, wide, and deep. She's gangly, angular and a kinda scary. Her voice isn't pretty or soft or lilting. She groans and pleads through the lyrics.

This version is explosive and a major turn on.

(Terms like "sexy" and "turn-on" make me feel like I'm a taking out an singles ad in 1977, while sporting my leisure suit and totally un-ironic mustache.)

And it is today's song.

I have debated about how to present it. Since I spend so much time here kvetching about Natalie Merchant, I think it's only fair to post her version here as well.

Since this is the order in which I heard both, I will post The Maniacs's version first and Smith's second. I hope you'll listen to both.

And if it turns out you like Merchant's version better...we can still be friends. I think.

And now...(This video is a little out of sync. I think they layered studio recording over a live performance.)

Have a sexy Tuesday! ( I walk away...the jingle of my gold medallions signals my approach to all, like a cat bell.)


rebar said...

Unlike yourself, I've never been afraid to admit that I don't like Natalie Merchant's voice.

The only thing I can compare my spine chilling reaction to her voice is the story of when Mary Hart's voice triggered seizures.

Merchant's voice triggers immediate feelings of nausea in me. This isn't hyperbole. It's a fact. I have to change the channel - turn off the source - whatever, lest I puke.

I wasn't a fan of their stuff when they hit it large in '87...but not long after that album came out I was got stuck helping a fellow student in college edit a short film - which was really just a henious music video remake of "Like the Weather" with her changing outfits and looking out a rainy window (over and over and over again.)

This was over 20 years ago and I still can't choke down any song from Merchant or the 10K Maniacs.

the end

Anonymous said...

The thing about Merchant, and 10k Maniacs, is that they seem to represent the trailing edge of alternative, the same trailing edge artist that happens in any musical movement--after the rage has gone and the artists have mellowed. It's the same pattern that took the edginess of the early Beatles and Stones and watered it down over time into America and Seals and Crofts, the same road that took us from Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' About Love" to White Lion's sappy and maudlin "When the Children Cry." It's inevitable, unfortunately--no form of music gets to be young and brash forever.

And while I've got to admit that some 10k Maniacs stuff resonates in my life --every time I hear songs from "Our Time In Eden" I get nostalgic for the time I lived in a house with my college buddies after school was done and we were just starting out in the world...it's primarily because that record was big that year, not so much that I was really a fan. For the most part the lyrics drive me batshit and her voice sucks...but it does take me back there somehow.

I saw the band live after Merchant left (when they were touring behind that tepid cover of "More Than This") and it was without a doubt one of the dullest "rock" shows I've ever seen in my life. Hell, PETER FRAMPTON put on a more exciting show.

Anonymous said...

As an aside, the Old Grey Whistle Test video is in fact a studio recording the band is lip-sync'ing to--shows like that would often do that, or at the very least the band would be pre-recorded and the vocal would be live. This one seems entirely lip-sync'ed. Just the way it was done.

-j-j- said...

Yeah, I remember watching shows like "Solid Gold" when I was a kid and the featured band would lip sync. It never bothered be that much - I figured it was just what they did.

The only time it would bug me was when the song would fade out. Watching the band awkwardly continue to sing while the sound diminished was laughable.

Erica said...

Solid Gold is what made me start dancing.

Add to Technorati Favorites