10,000 Maniacs: Marquee, London

LOONIES FROZE MY BIRD-BATH!!!

IN WHICH life is still seen to be full of disappointments. The hypnotic thunder of 10,000 Maniacs’ ‘My Mother The War’ is a sound that has thrilled the dinky flippers and knuts round here for many a week. David Keeps’ description of the band as “Debbie Harry fronting a folked-up New Order”, seemed so apt it froze the water in the bird-bath. But cold reality lays its spatulate finger on poetry’s shoulder, and I must go down to the Marquee again. There I discover that the Maniacs’ wistful atmospherics and REM dronisms vanish like the mist when confronted with the band’s desire to Pop-Rock Out.

Chunky guitarist Robert Buck may play a phased strand of triffic trendy six-stringery, but he blows his cover by GRIMACING and GOING ALL TORTURED AND ECSTATIC; for it seems that even art-rockers fall prey to the Feedback Orgasm. Likewise, the band’s desire to embrace every known form of music and make it their ownsome took on a surreal aspect when faced with the Maniacs’ apparent inability to write songs that do not cause the writer to shout, “Hurray! This one’s ‘My Mother The War’!” We had the reggae ‘My Mother The War’, the African ‘My Mother The War’, the rock ‘My Mother The War’, the folk ‘My Mother The War’, and the other reggae ‘My Mother The War’. Rock cliché is not improved by overlaying with one’s Distinctive Sound.

At their occasional best, 10,000 Maniacs use Natalie Merchant’s nasalist voice, with its big, big whimsy, and a droning New Wave backbeat to produce a speedy contrast. As Natalie intones wistfully, the group charge ahead, giving the listener an appealing sense of giddiness. They are ambient rockers — how one had hoped (oh! such naivete) that Eno’s U2 would sound. At their worst, 10,000 Maniacs are another traditional rock outfit, dragging round a big sack full of very ordinary instant rock ideas. It’s a bit like buying a Cocteau Twins LP and discovering it to be chock full of Tubeway Army songs. Oh, cynicism! Oh, despair!

© David QuantickNew Musical Express, 6 October 1984

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