March 18th, 1993, is the date of this Rolling Stone. Theoretically, then, it arrived in my mailbox a few days after the Storm of the Century walloped the East Coast and just a few days before the start of spring. At the time, Diane and I lived in a quadplex at the end of a dead-end street that ran up against a thicket of trees – a perfect place for drifting snow to settle. In reality, however, it likely arrived closer to March 4th, as magazines routinely pre-dated their issues to help with newsstand sales. (Who wants to buy yesterday’s news?)
That impending snowstorm aside, life was good. We owned a computer – a 286 that ran DOS – and accessed the pre-Internet via Prodigy, which featured bulletin boards, chat rooms, email to fellow users, and the news.
When I think back on that winter, though, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t the weather or Prodigy, but an album: Our Time in Eden by 10,000 Maniacs. We saw them in September 1992, 12 days before its release, and…it just became one of “those” albums for me. I’d play it, and then I’d play it again. And again. And again, after that.
Anyway, the cover story by Kim France, a staff writer at Sassy magazine, turns out not to be as in-depth as it could have been – two pages and part of a third isn’t enough space for that – but it’s a worthwhile read, explaining the band’s rising popularity following the “critical and financial disappointment” of Blind Man’s Zoo (1989). Natalie Merchant’s face graces the cover; and the shot inside features the entire band.
One sentence: “An atypically optimistic hit single, ‘These Are Days,’ as performed by an exhilarated Merchant at the MTV Inaugural Ball, was a highlight of the evening – a ‘Don’t Stop’ of the MTV generation.”
A paragraph: “Our Time in Eden is indeed a departure for the Maniacs, and many fans insist it’s the band at its best. Teetering on the edge of soft rock without quite going over the precipice, Eden is brightened by some flashy touches – like James Brown’s horns section sitting in on a couple of eminently radio-friendly songs, ‘Candy Everybody Wants’ and ‘Few and Far Between.’ The issue-oriented songs, long a Maniacs mainstay, are there, too, but much of the album concerns the intricacies of personal relationships. Merchant, who could have been called remote and even moralistic in earlier forays, displays an ability to get into other people’s minds with a dexterity and empathy that was only hinted at in previous albums.”
And a quote from Natalie: “I look at my early records as term papers that maybe would’ve been better buried in a box in the attic, and taken out ten years later and chuckled about.”
Today’s Top 5:
1) 10,000 Maniacs – “Noah’s Dove.” A lush, piano-driven song with lyrics about a fallen angel from the perspective of someone still behind the gates: not a typical opening track. Yet, it sets the mood (and theme) for Our Time in Eden as a whole, and does so in a narcotic-like manner.
2) Rosanne Cash – “If There’s a God on My Side.” The Wheel, Rosanne’s follow-up to the sparse Interiors, follows the same basic blueprint as its predecessor – love, relationships, breakups – yet isn’t a “lather, rinse, repeat” release. I.e., it may explore the same terrain, but mines new veins of angst and pain along the way, such as “Roses in the Fire” and “You Won’t Let Me In.” As former Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Tom Moon writes in this review: “The Wheel is hardly carefree, but no longer is Cash obsessed with conveying the minute details that made Interiors so daunting.” He also says that “If There’s a God on My Side” closes the album “with an elaboration on the lonesome desperation Cash has hinted at elsewhere. It’s a plea for a moment of clarity amid turmoil, and it uses the pathos of old-school country to maximum effect. The pain is palpable, and so is the doubt, and in these things lie the raw matter of Cash’s art.”
3) Juliana Hatfield – “Everybody Loves Me but You.” In an incongruous pairing, Juliana Hatfield opened for the B-52s at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on January 15, 1993, and reviewer Elysa Gardner is both cruel and kind in her critique: “Hatfield has an impressive voice – deceptively girlish but supple and clear, with a fine raspy bottom – and she’s a surprisingly emotive guitarist. But she would do well to focus less on writing songs about how tough it is to be a girl and more on projecting the strength and directness that are a woman’s best defense against sexism, in rock & roll or in life.”
This is Juliana’s setlist from that night: Supermodel/My Sister/Lost and Saved/I See You/Tamara/Here Comes the Pain/Rider/President Garfield/Ugly/Everybody Loves Me but You/Nirvana/I Got No idols.
After seeing that, Gardner’s take comes off as questionable. Here’s what Ann Powers, in a review that appeared in the New York Times, said of the same performance: “Her trio turned its amps up loud and sped through Ms. Hatfield’s bluntly personal accounts of frustration, self-doubt and hope. She’s still discovering her own talent, but Ms. Hatfield is an artist whose hesitant steps will lead alternative rock into its next mutation.”
“Everybody Loves Me but You” hails from Juliana’s first solo album, the wonderful Hey Babe. (Incidentally, that’s not Juliana’s hair on the cover of Hey Babe – it’s a wig.)
4) Belly – “Feed the Tree.” A great song from the short-lived, Boston-based band. Tanya Donelly, formerly of the Breeders and Throwing Muses (who I saw open for R.E.M. in 1989), founded the group with some childhood pals, wrote most of the songs, played guitar and sang lead. Star, their debut album, was more than just solid – it was a delight. In addition to this super-catchy tune, it features the rocking “Dusted,” sweet “Gepetto” and dazzling title track; and plays well from start to finish. It was a hit with the modern-rock crowd; and was one of my favorites of the year.
5) Willie Nelson – “American Tune.” In the Random Notes section, there’s this: “Legendary singer-songwriter/IRS punching bag Willie Nelson has recruited a calvacade of music-industry heavyweights – including Sinead O’Connor, Bonnie Raitt, Don Was, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, with whom he collaborated via fax – for his upcoming album, Across the Borderline.
Willie always sounds great, of course, but he’s not always consistent, album-wise. This one, however, is top-notch. (Diane actually heard it first, knew it would be something I’d love and surprised me with it.)