Natalie Merchant

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Ophelia Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Tigerlily established that Natalie Merchant could survive outside of 10,000 Maniacs, both commercially and artistically. Its follow-up album, Ophelia, is a bit more problematic. Initially, the album appears to be conceptual, tracing the Ophelia character through modern times. That concept quickly falls away, leaving studied, if somewhat elliptical, lyrical portraits. Like Tigerlily, the songs on Ophelia have hushed, layered arrangements that are outgrowths, not replicas, of 10,000's jangly folk-rock. However, Ophelia lacks the subtle sonic textures and graceful hooks that made Merchant's debut so charming. Instead, all of the subdued songs -- of which only "Kind & Generous" has a clear-cut, singalong hook -- blend together, which makes the album decidedly less accessible. Unfortunately, it doesn't always reward the close listening it demands. A few songs reveal hidden layers and meanings upon repeated listens, but on the whole Ophelia sounds too insular and similar to make a large impression.

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