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November 05, 2001 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2001-11-05

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t

8A - The Michigan Daily - Monday. November 5. 2001

6

Motherland, Natalie Merchant;
Elektra
By Gina Pensiero
Daily Arts Writer
"This house is on fire," are the
opening lyrics of Natalie Merchant's
newest album Motherland.
This song sets the serious and
somewhat political tone, that listeners
have come to expect from Merchant,
on the album, which is due for release
a week from tomorrow.
With Motherland, Merchant has
shifted from self-production to work-
ing with pop. veteran T. Bone Burnett.
Burnett's efforts with such successes
as Elvis Costello and The Wallflowers
have established him as a premier and
much sought-after producer.
Merchant is a unique solo artist in
that she has consistently focused her
music around a core band that tours
with her and appeared on her previous
releases Ophelia and Tigerlily. How-
ever, with each new release, she con-
tinues to infuse new talent like Tori
Amos' drummer Matt Chamberlain or
gospel music legend Mavis Staples.
As a whole, Motherland has a very
calculated and layered sound. Mer-
chant is vocally at her best and her
lines are filled with a richness and tex-
ture that she hasn't achieved for a
while. The production is excellent, as
is the attention to the detail of tradi-
tional sound, which is re-enforced by
use of banjo and accordion.
Although these generalizations can
be made, the songs each have their
own vibe. The first track, "This House
Is On Fire," is a reggae jaunt that is
reminiscent of Merchant's first album
Hope Chest with her previous band,
10,000 Maniacs. The song, which
Merchant explained was about the
WTO protests, is laden with organ and
chunky guitar."
The aura of the album abruptly
changes with the self-titled track,
which is equally political, but based in
acoustic guitar and the feeling of tra-
ditional folk. The record continues to
morph with banjo rock-out anthem
"Saint Judas" and the cautionary spiri-
tual "Build A Levee."
Songs like these highlight Mother-
land, however, the undisputable best
track is the haunting "Golden Boy."
The melody is sleepy and winding
over buzzy background acoustic gui-
tar and keyboard, as well as some
excellent lead guitar work. The chorus

is koan-like in the stark yet mystical
repetition of "golden boy." Merchant's
voice is deceptive and harbors aspects
of Bjork in its pure simplicity.
"'Golden Boy' was a song I wrote
without being absolutely certain of its
meaning. During the recording the
engineer commented that he couldn't
get the image of the infamous boys
from Columbine ... out of his head. I
suddenly realized that I was address-
ing the unhealthy tendency we have
as a culture to fix our attention upon
our deviant and violent outcasts,"
explained Merchant.
Motherland does start with a bang,
although the quality of the songs
diminish somewhat on the second
half of the album. The sleepy "Ballad
of Henry Darger" is interesting in its
fundamental ideal, but gets old quick.
This song is followed by a few more
throwaway tracks like the uninterest-
ing and repetitive "Tell Yourself" and
the over-produced "Not In This Life,"
which seem to be folk-pop cliches
more than anything else.
The first single, "Just Can't Last,"
holds up as poppy, fun and optimistic.
However, again, one can't help feel-
ing like it's a four-major-chord ditty
that's been 'done before. Not to men-
tion, done before by Merchant, with
her previous airplay darlings "These
Are Days," "Wonder," "Kind and
Generous" or "Life is Sweet."
It would not be unfair to say that
this is the best Merchant solo album
yet. However, one must consider that
even the well-meaning folk-pop god-
dess Merchant has her preachy and
redundant flaws.
Grade: A-

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0

Greatest Hits, The Cure; Elektra tracks with various b-sides, thus creating two
"essential" albums for Cure fans on two different
By Keith N. Dusenberry formats, and doubling the album's sales for the
Daily Arts Writer label. Similar shenanigans occurred with the
release of their subsequent singles package Galore
The holidays must be drawing near. To record --the Cure tacked a "ne'W" song available
labels, the festive season means two things: CDs nowhere else onto the end of it and sat back as the
as gifts and gift certificates as potential CD pur-( cash registers rang.
chases. Thus comes the November influx of great- Instead of placing Greatest Hits' .incomplete
est hits packages and video collections. Never collection of original hits on one of its discs and a
ones to place their fans over a few extra dollars, companion acoustic version of the exact same
this Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/etc. finds the tracks on the other disc, potential Cure fans would
Cure being naughty with the release of their latest have been better served by a simple binding of the
in a long line of greatest hits repackaging scams. existent singles collections mentioned above. Then
The Cure have always attracted a certain sector there would be no redundancy in the introduction,
of the record buying population, no matter how and the newcomer would get a fuller collection of
uneven or downright horrible their records may Cure classics, like "Killing an Arab" and "Pictures
have been. These people are usually, in America at of You" -- just two of a number of quality Cure
least, quietly obsessive about the Cure and their songs missing from the new Greatest Hits. Releas-
discography - sort of like less obnoxious ver- But Greatest Hits isn t essentially a bad record. ing the acoustic, Unplugged-style disc two of Hits
sons of The Tori Amos Girl. The Cure po l 'rs po pularCure favorites like "Boys Don't by itself would be nicer for Cure fans, maybe
and steadily build a personal librar ofobscure r+. Just Like heavenan t Ifnt ,along allowingthe less maniacal among them to save
French import records and discarded tubes oV with radio hits "Lovesong" ant"Friday I'rinInisorme cash by only having to buy a single record
frontman Robert Smith'gagscara. Baggi4 l15." L r e co ection also offers, in a classic Cure instead of the double disc. A little present like
perhaps simply in the name of having a complete con, two new songs. "Cut lIere"and Just Say sing respect and kindness toward their fans
collection or simple masochism, they continue to Yes" can only be found on this $20+ Cure CD. The would be a nice gesture from the Cure during this
buy Cure greatest hits albums despite already hav- Cure have been pulling this sort of trickery since holiday season. But that won't happen, and this
ing all but a song or two already in their collec- the mid-' 80s and they still think they can get away year Robert Smith can expect to find a lump a
tions. And the general public isn't buying these with it, and given the nature of their devoted fans, coal, and not my $20, in his Christmas stocking.
hits packages, though they would be far better off they sadly might. The Cure's first singles collec-
for supporting the Cure than say, Incubus. These tion CD, 1986's Staring at the Sea, promised sev- Grade: C
days, the only non-fan buyers of the Cure hits eral compact disc only songs in an attempt to
records are friends of fans attempting to under- promote the then-fledgling format. The cassette --My thanks to SunilSawani, Cure expert, for his
stand their friend's obsession. version of the same album replaced the CD only input regarding this album

Phantom 51 North Mississippi
Allstars; Tone Cool Records
By Joshua Gross
For the Daily
In the blues, raw is god. Raw-dog.
Nasty, ugly stuff. Stuff you shield
your kid's eyes from. Stuff that
makes the old lady faint. Stuff that
makes you want to start drinking
again. The North Mississippi All-
stars have this rawness, evidenced
from their incredible debut, Shake
Hands With Shorty and their explo-
sive live shows. But from the get-go
of Phantom 51 it seems that this
rawness has temporarily disap-
peared.
Now, just to be contradictory, I'll
admit that this is one rockin' album.
It starts with a bang, fizzles out for
a few songs, then explodes again,
like a complicated firecracker.
They've really worked on these
songs, polished them and the effect
is no different than seeing Kurt Von-
negut do a Nike commercial, it is a
potent mixture of sadness and happi-
ness. The appeal is wider, the songs
cleaner
You want them to succeed, you tell
your friends you want to see them
make it; you even almost convince,
yourself. The truth is, with a band
this special, you don't want them to
change. You look on them like a
mother looks on her sons, you want
them to never grow up, you want
them just the way they are, forever
and ever. Songs like, "Snakes In My
Bushes" sound like fawning love-
letters to the Black Crowes. "Mud,"
the final song, is a strange bird;
Slipknot and Mudvayne fans won't
be disappointed. "Lord Have Mercy"
is the only song reminiscent of the
sheer ferocity of the last album, but
it is also the only song not written
by the band. Luther used to shout
into the microphone, now he's
singing 20 percent of the time and
shouting 80 percent of the time. But
that 20 percent hurts. It hurts a lot.'
Phantom 51 is proof that the Allstars
have many more tricks up their
sleeves, some of whichl are more,
impressive than others.
NMA had a great sound, a beauti-
ful, true, unique sound and they
should have run with it. It makes
you feel awful, like a widow, like an
abandoned lover, like you've been
thrown in the mud by the one you
love.

Grade: C

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1A

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