10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe – Round 23 – Graham’s Choice

In My TribeThe soundtrack to my summer of 1987. If we had an outdoor, summer evening round of DRC, this would have been my choice. Would also have fitted have fitted nicely into an “earnest and worthy” theme night. Though not sure where I was actually going, this never seemed to be out of the cassette deck in the car that year.

Can’t really recall how I came about buying this album, it may have been the music press or even my desire to own everything REM (pre-Green, naturally), as Michael Stipe features on a track.

Natalie Merchant’s distinctive vocals, often restrained and occasionally soaring, carry you through this album, backed, in the main, by bright and jangly guitars. The subject matter of child abuse, alcoholism, US militarisation etc. etc. could be overbearing but is lifted by some joyful playing by the rest of the band. All that changes on the last track, where her vocals and the piano are simply beautiful. In fact, fellow members identified that Verdi Calls could well have inspired what later became Night Swimming, by REM. Generally you could categorise the sound as folk-rock/ pop-folk with the odd tinge of country. Though regarded as their best album, if I have a problem with any track it would be My Sister Rose, as the imagery of the vocals and style of playing, just doesn’t  seem to hang well with the rest of the tracks.

Given the general vibe of peace, love and tolerance to all, a wonderful irony was the later removal from US versions of the cover (and it’s a good one) of Cat Stevens’ Peace Train. This followed alleged statements from Yusef Islam about the Fatwa on Salman Rushdie.

This was the Maniac’s 2nd album on Elektra, and as I recall (though can’t find the CD’s at present) a lighter/poppier sound than their debut, with Wishing Chair. I’m sure we had the 3rd, Blind Man’s Zoo, knocking around as well, though I seemed to have moved on by the time the 4th, and final album involving Merchant was released. In various forms the band are still knocking around on the live circuit to this day, though I’ve not seen/heard/looked for any more of their output.

A perfect slice of summer when  its miserable weather or you’re in feeling a little down.

Nick listened: I hate to be predictable, but this pretty much passed me by, as Rob and Tom predicted; it is jangle-pop, after all. It was very pleasant, and the lyrics seemed interesting from one DRC exposure, but I think I’ve just got a big deaf-spot when it comes to jangle-pop in general.

Tom Listened: Come on Nick, you love to be predictable!

I am quite a fan of jangle-pop but I am also well aware of how often these records can pass you by on a first listen. So, in many ways I agree with Nick but at the same time I have a feeling that I may be being unfair on In My Tribe to dismiss it after just one, curry interrupted, listen. That said, I tend to like my jangle-pop to be either a bit twisted (The Bats, The Chills) or to have a seam of wistful melancholia running through it (The Triffids, The Go-Betweens). It seems as though other per-requisites are that the band have to come from the Antipodes and have the word ‘The’ in the name…unfortunately, 10000 Maniacs fail on both counts!

Rob listened: I realised listening to ‘In My Tribe’ how I subconsciously yearn for that period in the late 80s when a group, usually from somewhere in the lower half of North America, could simply jangle away at a couple of chords for a whole album and that would be just fine. There was a weird still point there where records didn’t have to do all that much to sound sweet. I guess 10,000 Maniacs really did get stuck in that still point, not quite country, not as oblique or interesting as R.E.M., not as wracked as Throwing Muses they just sort of jangled away and everyone else moved on. I enjoyed the listen.


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