10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe (Elektra)


WHERE DO you start with a record so full, so completely realised; so gentle and obtrusive? When it almost hurts to have to bring it into the conversation where the words will start looking crude and overacted. It’s as though, when I start speaking, just a little of this magic will seep away; 10,000 Maniacs take a car journey and turn it into the most magnetic record of 1987. Not too far-fetched. Some kind of start.

The voice? Amazed, ambushed, just perfect and candid enough. The words? Everything seen in the light of these obsessions, like when you need to slip out of the world and somehow you manage to. The beat and the thump and the way the guitars come out in a blistery rash? Suspended and swept away. In My Tribe is no elaborate fantasy; it often obeys the rules but you find that the feeling that emerges rises and falls through human affairs and tastes like your first sherbert.

‘Peace Train’ you might already know about. Curiously, it is this record’s weakest moment. Fey but not plain, it barely touches the rest. Eleven more moments belong to them and you’ll find them moist, torrential, rapt, fluorescent, sudden, scraped, assonant, resurgent, diffident, guzzled and voluptuous, but not necessarily in the order.

In 1985, Natalie Merchant christened me the Adjective King and I bow to her better judgment. Consider this for a laugh: Two years ago, around the time of The Wishing Chair, their previous LP, grown men were comparing this completely modern pop group with Fairport Convention. It’s a funny old world. You might as well compare this group to Vera Lynn. Don’t.

You know that feeling when you’re listening to a record over and over and over, you don’t care where all the time is going, and suddenly you become aware that it is somehow massaging you all over, taking your pulse, presenting you with a tray of butterflies, reminding you what it’s like to chew someone’s tongue, bringing on severe temptations inducing that celebrated shiver? It might be Al Green and it might be the Everlys. It might be that Dexys one and it might be the Barry White one. In My Tribe has many moments of specific angles and intersections which manage to do much more than graze, which is all that most pop music manages to do. ‘What’s The Matter Here?’ does it in a way that builds like a soft song. ‘Hey Jack Kerouac’ does it in a way that reminds you of Jack’s famous line about “Lester Young in eternity blowing his horn alone”.

‘Don’t Talk’ suddenly hits this, ahem, groove, where it is all about love going wrong and we’ll all think, “I’ve been there… sometimes.” My favourite just now is ‘Gun Shy’ because the story talks of a painful paradox but most of all because Natalie sings in a way that suggests liquid eyes and a head full of wonder and attachment.

Vivid fragments; new ways to say that pop music can sometimes be a needle that pricks the skin. The year’s most perfect pop record. How much more simple can it get? Gasps and gusts, tales within tales and 12 ways to believe that pop in the Eighties can take hold of reality and win and will and glint and ripple. Like a dream. That’s better and clearer. Young scamps run free.

© Jon WildeMelody Maker, 5 September 1987

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