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"Shiver in my bones
DVD Review10,000 Maniacs were one of those mid-1980s alt/college bands whose name never really matched their musical style. They were hardly maniacs, and while you might have expected some raucous, power-chord driven anthems, the group began as another of those jangly post-Athens/R.E.M. outfits, forming in Jamestown, New York, built around the throaty warble of vocalist Natalie Merchant, singing songs filled with brainy lyrics and a kind of moderate post-grad anti-pop sensibility.
This collection of music videos and live performances spans 1982-1993, covering their early, early days in Jamestown on through their chart success with hits like These Are Days and Trouble Me. Natalie Merchant always seemed like a reluctant front person, and as the band came into prominence she was thrust more into the spotlight as the focus of the videos. With her neo-1940s demeanor, Merchant always seemed somehow out of place in front of the camera, as if she was trying to play the role of music video rock star, when in reality all she wanted to do was sing. Watching the video for 1988s Like The Weather, with its bright, stylized colors, it seems clear that Merchant was being marketed as 10,000 Maniacs, to the permanent anonymity of the other band members.
But all of the marketing and internal politics of the group aside, Time Capsule shows them all off as a band who made a lot of smart music - bypassing the usual "I love you" pap in favor of songs about teenage pregnancy (Eat For Two), child abuse (What's The Matter Here?) and union battles (Maddox Table). The music videos run the gamut from uneventful lip-sync "performance" (Scorpio Rising) to message-driven clips of great white hunters in Africa (Hateful Hate), with tracks like Trouble Me sporting the most polished look of the tracks collected here. It's interesting to watch their growth commerically over the span of these tracks, and there has always been a part of me that wished they could have retained the intensity of their early days, as with Pit Viper, as opposed to becoming an eventual vehicle for Merchant to go solo.
There are three actual live performances (four if you count the MTV Unplugged performance of Because The Night - but for some reason it is considered an "extra"), with one being the band's first television appearance in 1985 on England's The Tube, performing My Mother The War. The other live cuts are another excerpt from the Unplugged performance, with the song Dust Bowl, and one from an outdoor concert in Glasgow 1990 featuring Merchant, R.E.M's Michael Stipe and edgy British alt-folkie Billy Bragg performing a gloriously stripped down version of John Prine's Hello In There.
The band, in time, fell victim to having a lead singer who eclipsed the band she fronted, and when Merchant went solo (to great success) the leftover maniacs were left to struggle with finding a replacement—something that never really gelled, despite a fine effort from Mary Ramsey. But I guess that's a story for another retrosepective.
National Education Week
My Mother The War
Like the Weather
I Have Dreams
What's The Matter Here?
Eat for Two
Hello in There
You Happy Puppet
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: All of the videos are presented in 1.33:1 fullframe, and the quality varies depending on at what point in the band's career it is from, with the later and more lavish video clips having bright, stylized and oversaturated colors. Most of the material, however, has an intentionally arty and grainy appearance, with minimal specks or debris. Hateful Hate seems to have a minor transfer issue related to a quick moment of jerky tracking, but for all I know that could be some art school hipness that is over my head.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in either an even-keeled 2.0 stereo or a fluctuating 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. While the stereo track holds its own throughout all the songs, the 5.1 more noticeably reveals some of the imperfections in the source material. The more polished video tracks, such as Like The Weather or Trouble Me, sound first rate, with deep, clean bass and even some minor rear channel activity. The unfortunately poor sound quality on the mesmerizing live performance of John Prine's Hello In There (featuring Michael Stipe and Billy Bragg) has some annoying crackle and clipping, and the live version of My Mother The War comes across a bit muddy.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 18 cues and remote access
The disc is cut into 18 chapters (one per song - not counting the "extra" videos).
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsHere's a nice retrospective (at least through 1993) of a band that generally made smarter music than most of their contemporaries on the alt pop charts. While it's noticeably lacking tunes like Hey, Jack Kerouac and their Cat Stevens cover of Peace Train, Time Capsule quickly outlines their rise, and only hints at their eventual disintegration as Natalie Merchant became the band's focus.
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