10,000 Maniacs – Blind Man’s Zoo

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Artist: 10,000 Maniacs
Title: Blind Man’s Zoo
Released: 1989
Label: Elektra
Format: Cassette Tape
Musicians:Jerome Augustyniak – drums,Robert Buck – electric guitar, acoustic guitar,Dennis Drew – organ, piano,Steve Gustafson – bass guitar, Natalie Merchant – vocals, piano, pipe organ. Additional musicians: Jevetta Steele – backing vocals, Jason Osborn – arrangement, orchestral direction, Krista Bennion Feeney – first violin, Mitsuru Tsubota – second violin, Louise Schulman – viola, Myron Lutzke – cello, Dennis Godburn – bassoon, Robert Wolinsky – harpsichord, Scott Kuney – classical guitar
Frank Luther – double bass
Producer: Peter Asher
Engineer: Frank Filipetti

This is the fourth release from 10,000 Maniacs. The vinyl version was pressed on high quality audiophile vinyl. As you can see from above, my version is on tape (which incidentally, I  transferred to CD).

Based in the US, the 10,000 Maniacs are an alternative band formed in 1981 and continues to be active with various line ups only without Natalie Merchant.

From Wikipedia: The band was formed as Still Life in 1981 in Jamestown, New York, by Dennis Drew (keyboards), Steven Gustafson (bass), Chet Cardinale (drums), Robert Buck (guitar), and Teri Newhouse (vocalist and Buck’s ex-wife). Gustafson invited Natalie Merchant, who was 17 at the time, to do some vocals. Newhouse and Cardinale left the band in July, and Merchant became the main singer. Various drummers came and left. The band changed its name to Burn Victims and then to 10,000 Maniacs after the low-budget horror movie Two Thousand Maniacs!.
Tired of playing cover songs—though their first notable American hit was found in covering the Cat Stevens hit “Peace Train”—the band started to write their own music, usually with Merchant handling the lyrics and Lombardo the music.
Co-founder Lombardo left the band during a rehearsal on July 14, 1986.  The album, 1989’s Blind Man’s Zoo hit No. 13 and went gold, further increasing the group’s following. In 1991, during the recordings of a new album, Merchant revealed to the other members that she would be leaving for a solo career in two years’ time. On MTV Unplugged on April 21. Merchant announced her leaving the band on MTV on August 5, 1993, saying she “didn’t want art by committee anymore.”[5] The MTV Unplugged album was released on October 26, 1993.[6] “The last 10,000 Maniacs gig was the first time I’d got drunk in nearly two years,” Merchant later recalled. “I laughed a lot and threw lots of flowers out of the hotel window.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10,000_Maniacs
http://maniacs.com/

Natalie Merchant is still at it today continuing to make music and work as an activist for many worthy causes.
To see what Natalie is up to go here: http://www.nataliemerchant.com/

This is one of the strongest albums I have ever heard. The songwriting is brilliant. Natalie Merchant’s voice is pure and strong. If the album seems to have an activist feel to it, that’s because it does. What can I say, I like some activist bands.

Ok, let’s break it down:

  1. Eat For Two – I interpreted this as a song about teen pregnancy and dealing with all the emotions and shame about it. Kind of a sad song. Natalie Merchant wrote this track, explained that she was not making a moral judgment in this song about a young pregnant woman. It’s also not autobiographical. Said Merchant: “I enjoy creating characters and leaving people to draw their own conclusions. In the song ‘Eat For Two,’ as far as I’m concerned, the girl is too young to have a child, she knows it but she’s five months gone and all she can do is have the child. But the song doesn’t condemn her, it’s about her situation.”
    This inspired Michael Stipe of R.E.M. to write a song for their 1991 album, Out Of Time called “Me In Honey,” which is a male perspective on pregnancy. Stipe and Merchant are good friends, and he has cited her as an influence on his songwriting.
  2. Please Forgive Us – To me, this is an anti-war song. It could be talking about war or any conflict of scale in general or even specifically the Vietnam war, but the song that follows is clearly about that. It seems to me that this song could actually talking about the war in Iraq and other mid-east countries, however, this song was written well before the invasion of Iraq. I interpret it as an apology song asking forgiveness for the things done in the name of the citizens of the US via wrong-headed foreign policy. It is a very heart-felt song. I recently ran across this and realized I was not too far off: Natalie’s thoughts on Please Forgive Us, a song about the 1986 Iran-contra scandal: “I don’t want people to put too much weight on the political side of that song. Mostly it’s just a way to communicate to people down there (Central America) that there are people here who don’t agree with what our government does. I wanted them to know that there are people here who are not responsible for it. I know that no matter how much money I give to send medical aid, I can’t bring back people who have died or been hurt by these actions.” – St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1989
  3. The Big Parade – This song is about the Vietnam war. Excellent lyrics and a very emotional song
  4. Trouble Me – I interpret this song as being about helping others, emotional support if you will. Merchant is known for writing songs about serious topics such as child abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, poverty and war, but there is another topic that Natalie writes about that rarely seems to be mentioned: comfort. Natalie says of this song: “I think Trouble Me is the most direct and I don’t want people to believe it’s a song that only concerns young lovers. I think that love shouldn’t be so exclusive. It shouldn’t be hoarded.” I never thought this was about young lovers, I don’t get that imagery from the song.
  5. You Happy Puppet -This is my least favorite song on the album. To me it could be about being people just following the crowd, being told how to feel, not questioning anything and not saying anything. In other words, having no voice of one’s own where all decisions are made for them.
  6. Headstrong – This is the hardest song on the album. It’s almost an anthem. It seems to be about trying to change someone you love or trying to control them. At least that’s what I am getting from the song.
  7. Poison In The Well – The title almost gives it away, this is about environmental disasters such as oil spills or toxic spills and the like and how the companies responsible for such disasters don’t care about the effects on people, the environment or anything.
  8. Dust Bowl – Really sad song about poverty. In particular it’s a song about a single mom trying to survive and provide for her child or children. The vast majority of people who have listened or will listen to Dust Bowl have never experienced the kind of crushing poverty the song describes. At least not to the extent the mother in this song is going through. Dust Bowl succeeds in doing something that is no small feat in this world, but that almost only music can do – it creates empathy. You don’t have to experience the desperation the mother in Dust Bowl feels to appreciate the song. The piercing words force you to walk in her shoes. If you have any idea or glimpse of this kind of situation, this song will make you cry or come pretty near, that’s how powerful it is.
  9. The Lion’s Share – This could be about inequality in all its forms. It could also be about a more political nature like a leader of any country, free or not, that takes over and demands worship or adherence from the people and / or takes most everything away forcing them to live in near poverty.
  10. Hateful Hate – Again the title gives it away, this song is about hatred and bigotry. Also specifically about slavery and imperial exploitation.
  11. Jubilee – To me, this song is about piety, religious evangelism and the thread of bigotry that runs through it all. Here is what Natalie has said about the lyrics to this song: “It all happens on a symbolic level. Tyler is the innocent lamb – he has a mental handicap. The preacher seems to me to be a very disturbed man. His powerful sermons, concentrating on vengeance and righteousness, are manipulating Tyler to the point where he believes that the only way that he can serve God is by destroying what’s evil, what’s carnal. And to him, that’s a dance hall where there are interracial couples, because he’s been taught that there should be no mixing of the races, and no mixing of the sexes except in marriage. So he burns it down.”***

This album is still very meaningful and on topic today in 2015/16!

Headstrong: https://youtu.be/rosI5caW_GA

Here’s a treat – Demo session for Jubilee:

 

Sound:5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars
Music: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

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