For as much as I loved 10,000 Maniacs in their Natalie Merchant incarnation, I really never much cared for Natalie Merchant's solo material. There was a song here and there that I really liked, but nothing she did solo-wise ever connected with me like her best work with 10,000 Maniacs. I think some of it had to do with what I perceived as a huge ego driving her toward a solo career, especially as 10,000 Maniacs were having their first ever Top 10 hit with "Because the Night." I couldn't believe that she was leaving the band that really made her who she was just as they were starting to break out into the mainstream. I can't help but think that the remaining Maniacs were more than a little bit ticked at her solo success.
My friends looked at me puzzled when I said I wasn't sure if I could listen to Natalie's solo material. After all, it was just like listening to 10,000 Maniacs wasn't it? She was the voice of 10,000 Maniacs, so their response to me was to chill and close my eyes and pretend I was listening to the band and not just the singer. This works sometimes, but as it turns out, listening to solo Natalie Merchant is NOT like listening to the band. It seems like something that was essential to the success of her music with 10,000 Maniacs is missing in her solo music. I imagine it's how many people feel about Stevie Nicks' solo career. Without Lindsey Buckingham around to rein her in, Stevie kind of goes batshit crazy. For me, that's batshit crazy in a good way. But without the Maniacs, Natalie goes so internal that no one can break down the door. She's like a friend that you know can cut loose, but insists on being stoic and serious all the time.
For all my supposed dislike of her solo music, I will say that there are a few songs that I really like - mostly from her solo debut Tigerlily. I really liked the song "Wonder" mostly because it sounded like a long lost Maniacs track, and I did like "Carnival" some, with its "Secret"-ish video.
Her solo music really fell off my radar after Tigerlily. I knew the song "Kind & Generous". It mostly annoyed me, but listening to it again today (I picked up the album it is on, Ophelia, from the library yesterday) it's not as grating as I remember. And as far as anything after that, what I have heard is not listenable. Her voice is gone, stripped of its once distinctive quality and reduced to (sorry to say it) bleating. One need only listen to the song "Just Can't Last" to know that her glory days as a vocalist are likely behind her.
But I will always have the Maniacs. When I watch live concert footage of 10,000 Maniacs on YouTube, I always wish I could have seen them during their 1988-1992 heyday, back when they were singing the happiest song in the world about seasonal affective disorder. Not surprisingly, "Like The Weather" is one of my all time faves.