Thursday , May 23 2024
Rhino's new two-disc career retrospective.

Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure & Unknown Recordings of 10,000 Maniacs

If ever a band sounded less like its name, it was 10,000 Maniacs. Debuting in a era that saw the likes of Fear and Dead Kennedys, a group whose name recalled H.G. Lewis’ notorious Confederate splatterfest, 2,000 Maniacs, was not supposed to sound like a buncha collegiate neo-folkies. But, happily, they did.
Listening to the opening cuts from the group’s new two-disc retrospective, Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure & Unknown Recordings of 10,000 Maniacs, it’s clear the group debuted with an edgier post-punk sound than its VH-1 fan base might realize: Pylon-ite bass lines, echoey bursts of sonic weirdness, all the trappings of mid-80’s college radio. Fortunately, by the time the Maniacs made their major label debut with The Wishing Chair, the band’s more familiar style was set thru songs like “Scorpio Rising” and “Can’t Ignore the Train.” Sensibly melodic folk-rock with hooks and heart (not to mention Natalie Merchant’s divinely sensual smart-girl croon): as Rhino’s retrospective re-establishes for them-what-might’ve-forgotten, it’s a deservedly enduring sound. “Like the Weather,” “Trouble Me,” “These Are Days” – all the video hits are included, and they still sound great. (The one notable exception: the band’s unplugged remake of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night,” which totally blows the shouting lust-crazed exuberance of the Smith/Springsteen original.) Also strong: album tracks like Merchant’s doleful teen pregnancy song “Eat for Two” and “Hey, Jack Kerouac.”
Disc two focuses on the “obscure” stuff: four demos (I especially like “Can’t Ignore the Train,” which nearly sounds as fully formed as its Joe Boyd-produced Wishing Chair version), plus a passel of covers, including the once-banished “Peace Train” (still a dumb song, but a great performance), a live duet with Michael Stipe on “To Sir With Love” (still a dumb song, but two great performances), John Prine’s “Hello in There” (no dumb song at all, and Natalie does it proud) along with a reggae-ified version of Ziggy Stardust’s “Starman” that works much better than you’d ever expect. As marginalia goes, this is much more replayable than I know I expected – the band even does a cover of “Everyday Is Like Sunday” that’s one of the best covers of a Morrissey song since Kirsty Macoll’s “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby.” Campfire Songs? Mebbe not – but it sure sounds cozy. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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