Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 7: 10,000 Maniacs, "Candy Everybody Wants"

Artist: 10,000 Maniacs
Song: "Candy Everybody Wants"
Album: Our Time In Eden
Year: 1992

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (Album Version) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (Live w/Michael Stipe) (will open in new tab)

While many point to the beginning of the 1990's as the resurgence of almost wild creativity within the world of music, the fact of the matter is, many of the most important bands of that time period had been developing and honing their sound for a number of years previous to their breakthroughs.  In fact, in a few cases, the bands that are hailed as the "definitive" groups of the 1990's had been playing as early as the late 1970's, and this in itself brings into question if there ever really was a creative lull in music.  Among the most influential and unforgettable acts that came to the forefront in the early 1990's, few better defined the general state of mind of youth than one finds in the socially conscious, melodically beautiful sounds of 10,000 Maniacs.  From cultural direction to fashion trends, both on purpose and unintentionally, the group is almost synonymous with the era, and yet their songs remain just as powerful and relevant more than two decades later.  Even in their early years, 10,000 Maniacs made a point of never being afraid to approach certain subjects or to experiment with different sounds, and this is much the reason that their music is so wonderfully unique.  Yet while one cannot overlook some of their more uncompromising musical statements, one can also argue that it was following these years that the group found a brilliant balance.  Perhaps a bit less overtly preachy than their previous songs of note, one cannot deny the sheer beauty and remaining lyrical mastery found within 10,000 Maniacs fantastic 1992 single, "Candy Everybody Wants."

In every sense, the moment that "Candy Everybody Wants" begins, the entire reason people fell in love with 10,000 Maniacs becomes completely clear.  There is a wonderfully diverse array of sounds that are instantly at play, and the overall tone of the song is upbeat and captivating.  Led by the perfectly toned guitars of Robert Buck, there is almost a Renaissance-period feel to the jangle that persists throughout the entire song.  It is in this aspect where much of the mood of "Candy Everybody Wants" is set, and it is brilliantly complimented by the meandering bassline from Steven Gustafson.  The way with which he is able to lock in with the drumming of Jerome Augustyniak helps to give the song a distinctive shuffle, and yet there are points where they seem to have two rhythms going simultaneously.  This sense of movement and greater musical depth is what separates much of the Our Time In Eden record from the bands' previous efforts, as they had clearly learned how to have the same impact with a bit more musical concentration.  However, one cannot overlook the amazing punctuation provided by the horns on "Candy Everybody Wants," and these are played by none other than former J.B.'s and P-Funk members Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, and Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis.  The presence of such iconic greatness not only ads depth to the record, but it also shows just how many different influences are at play throughout the musical arrangement on "Candy Everybody Wants."

Yet while the music is absolutely superb, one can easily argue that it is the voice of Natalie Merchant that defines 10,000 Maniacs.  Much like the band itself, Merchant in many ways embodies the female image and mentality of the early 1990's, and it was her performances during that period that vaulted her to the status of icon.  On "Candy Everybody Wants," she is in top form, bringing an uncanny power to every part of the vocal spectrum.  Whether she is almost wistfully dancing through the verses or letting her voice soar to unparalleled heights on the bridge and chorus sections, there are few performers who are as completely mesmerizing as Merchant is on this song.  There is also a distinctive quirkiness to the voice of Natalie Merchant, and this is what endeared her to an entire generation, as the level of raw honesty in her singing largely set the standard for countless vocalists that followed.  However, the entire upbeat nature of the song and singing is in fact a perfectly executed cover for lyrics which remain very much in line with the bands' history of lyrical social criticism.  Though they are not as in-your-face as most of their previous efforts, it is this subtle restraint that proves their complete ability.  While many fail to recognize the absolutely brutal commentary on society that is repeated, the band leaves nothing to question when Merchant sings, "...if lust and hate is the candy,
if blood and love tastes so sweet, then we give 'em what they want..."  Both this sentiment, as well as the stunning way with which Natalie Merchant delivers the words remain just as relevant and powerful today as when they were first released, solidifying the true greatness of the song.

The fact that 10,000 Maniacs were able to make such harsh social judgments, whilst still making the song seem upbeat and positive is a testament to their exceptional talents, and this duality is one of the reasons they became such icons of their generation.  Finding ways to fuse together everything from blues to folk to rock to jazz, there are few other bands from any point in history that can boast an even remotely similar sound.  Yet Our Time In Eden would largely mark the end of the bands' creative prowess, as lineup changes made it impossible to ever achieve similar sonic perfection as one finds on "Candy Everybody Wants."  Yet there is a second recording of the song that is in many ways the "ultimate" early 1990's moment, as the song was performed live at the Inaugural Ball for President Bill Clinton in 1993.  While this alone was fantastic, it is the secondary lead vocal by the one and only Michael Stipe that truly makes this a special and iconic moment in music history.  Their two voices blend together in absolute musical bliss, and yet one can also see the massive amount of irony at a song with such subtext being performed in that environment.  Regardless of which version one hears, the distinctive personality of 10,000 Maniacs has rarely been more clear or in better form, and while it may not be as blunt as their earlier recordings, there is a musical perfection found on 1992's "Candy Everybody Wants" that remains unequaled to this day.

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