Natalie Merchant

Retrospective 1995-2005

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Natalie Merchant was with 10,000 Maniacs for four full-length albums before she departed for a solo career. Four albums and ten years into her solo career, she released Retrospective 1995-2005, a 13-track collection of highlights, containing no rarities or B-sides (those were reserved for the simultaneously released deluxe edition of the album, which had a 15-track bonus disc containing all notable non-LP tracks, including three unreleased cuts, plus duets with the Chieftains, R.E.M., Billy Bragg, and Susan McKeown). Her solo career began on a high note with Tigerlily, a continuation of the sound of latter-day 10,000 Maniacs records, heavy on the polish and laid-back atmosphere and light on jangling guitars. It entered the charts at 13, spawned the Top Ten single, "Carnival," and its Top 20 follow-up, "Wonder," and garnered generally positive reviews. But her momentum began to slow on her 1998 sophomore effort, Ophelia, which may have climbed higher on the Billboard album charts, but it failed to produce any big hit; "Kind & Generous" peaked at 18, but it never gained the same popularity as either "Carnival" or "Wonder." From there, Merchant settled into a comfortable cult, turning out variations on the Tigerlily template on 2001's Motherland and getting a little folkier on 2003's collection of traditional tunes, The House Carpenter's Daughter. Retrospective balances these four albums nicely, selecting four cuts each from Tigerlily and Ophelia while taking three from Motherland and two from House Carpenter. It not only takes the obvious highlights from these albums, but it draws an accurate, representative picture of her solo career. Which is not to say that it will please 10,000 Maniacs fans looking for music in a similar vein -- after her solo debut, Merchant's music got a little too small and insular, a little more concerned with mood and lyrics than with pop hooks to appeal to a broader audience. Those fans will likely want to stick with Tigerlily, which is a more satisfying listen overall than Retrospective, but for those who want an overview of Natalie Merchant's solo career, this does a fine job of providing that.

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