Are You Buying What She’s Selling?
Yes, that Natalie Merchant. That’s the message the raven-haired, lazy hummingbird-voiced darling of the late ’80s/early ’90s is delivering on her self-titled sixth solo album since leaving 10,000 Maniacs in 1993. Merchant released a collection of contemporary folk songs in 2003 with The House Carpenter’s Daughter and set music to children’s poems and lullabies in 2010 with Leave Your Sleep. But that Natalie Merchant hasn’t put out a collection of new, original songs since Motherland in 2001. With this new album, she picks off where she left off, and that is either wonderful or a bore depending on your attraction to the artist.
We begin with “Ladybird,” picking up right where Motherland left off. It’s a folk-soul ode to loss and acceptance, not unlike the bulk of Merchant’s solo catalog. “Maggie Said” is even slower and sadder and doesn’t offer much hope for the rest of the album. But “Texas” more inventive melodically, and it’s instrumentally simpler than the prior tunes. This variation appears experimental for Merchant, especially when compared to the “as expected” “Go Down, Moses.” Similarly, “Seven Deadly Sins” works well; despite its mellowness, it’s a departure for Merchant as she incorporates some of the folk sensibilities she explored in her previous two albums.
The overall tone of Natalie Merchant, however, is lethargic. If you’re waiting for a pick-me-up, you’ll be disappointed. The intro to “Lulu” is a fun vamp, the only hint of levity on the album, before it devolves to a depressing biopic of a dreamer who lost her dream. The best reason to pick up Merchant’s latest is because you miss and love her voice — and there is great reason to do so. As a vocalist, she is unique, distinctive and never imitated. Even as far back as 10,000 Maniacs, the music was never exciting; it was all about Merchant’s voice. That continues to be the case even as she enters her 50s, and if you have an insatiable appetite for all things Merchant, you will want to add this to your collection. Otherwise, it’s worth perhaps a passing listen.