It is a little hard for me to believe that 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of Our Time in Eden. It’s a funny thing, but some records age better than others. Last fall saw a flurry of activity centered around the rise of grunge for example, which to me seems much more than 20 years past. But Our Time in Eden remains fresh, and very personal to me. I suppose there are all kinds of reasons for this, but the most obvious is the fact that it is just a great record all the way through. It was also Natalie Merchant’s final one with the group, and I think her departure was a mistake for both herself and the band. She left on a high note though, for Our Time in Eden is the best album 10,000 Maniacs ever made.
As a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, liking the Maniacs, and Merchant was considered something of a guilty pleasure among my peers. Well, too bad. What some might consider to be faults I felt were strengths. Merchant’s freshman community college girl earnestness in delivering her love-struck lyrics was perfect for me. Those were the chicks I dated when I went to community college after all. All kidding aside though, Merchant’s lyrics may have been precious at times, but they always sounded genuine.
I came to the party pretty late with this group. Although I was aware of them before Our Time in Eden, this was the first album of theirs I bought. And that sprang from an appearance on Saturday Night Live I happened to catch, and their performance of “Candy Everybody Wants.” There was something about the opening line of that song that made me sit up and take notice, “If lust and hate is the candy, if blood and love taste so sweet, then give them what they want.”
“These Are Days” was the radio hit, and it is a fine example of what this group did so well. What makes Our Time in Eden so special is the fact that there is not a bad track on it. One of the misconceptions I had about 10,000 Maniacs prior to hearing this album was that there was a sameness about their material. Not so. One of the inspired additions to the group on a couple of tracks is the horns. I remember hearing “Few and Far Between” for the first time, and wondering if it was a Van Morrison song they were covering. As I dug a little deeper I realized that what gave it that particular sound was the inclusion of Pee Wee Ellis on tenor sax. Ellis led the horns in Morrison’s band for years. This all-star horn section also features Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, who made their names with James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, and many other projects. The three also appear on “Candy Everybody Wants.”
For the 20th anniversary of Our Time in Eden, the audiophile label Audio Fidelity has released it as part of their new vinyl mid-line Target Series. For those of us who have been enjoying the resurrection of the LP of late, the Target Series is a promising development. Previously, the only new LPs in stores have been very expensive 180-gram limited edition selections. These hold great snob appeal, and do sound wonderful, but there has been no lower-priced alternative until now.
In rock music, 20 years is a long time to be sure. But 10,000 Maniacs produced a timeless classic with Our Time in Eden. This reissue offers an opportunity to hear just how good that record still sounds, and how particularly suited their music is for the LP format. It is a classic all the way through.