In My Tribe by 10,000 Maniacs is one of my top five favorite albums of all time. It came out at a point in my life when I was ready to hear it and ready for a journey off the beaten path of cheesy, brainless pop that had dominated my listening habits up to that point. Whether you listen to the version with “Peace Train” or without (I prefer the one with), it’s a perfect album top to bottom, touching on social issues like literacy, depression, child abuse, and alcohol abuse while still keeping it light and poppy.
I wish I could say that about the follow-up, Blind Man’s Zoo. While still a pretty solid album, it definitely suffered from Overly Ambitious Follow-Up Album Syndrome. It was like they sat down and mapped out which social issues they were going to address and wrote the songs accordingly. Most of the songs feel like an after-school special, with nowhere near the subtlety and finesse of those on In My Tribe. One big exception to that is “Eat For Two.”
As you might expect, “Eat For Two” is about pregnancy – specifically teenage pregnancy. Now, it would have been easy to make a song like this maudlin and overdone. But the combination of lyrics and music along with brilliant production by Peter Asher takes the song from good to great.
The keyboards in the song provide a sense of urgency that you’d imagine any teenage girl might feel if she found herself in that position. Lyrically, it’s one of the strongest songs on the album and the video retains the urgency that the song itself provides, circling around and around a Natalie Merchant looking younger than her age, while doll parts tumble through the air and images of fetuses are flashed on the screen.
“Eat For Two” showed up on the Maniacs’ 1994 Unplugged album, but it couldn’t have possibly been in a more disappointing form. Gone were the faux strings, the keyboards, the driving drum beat. In their place was a plodding arrangement that only highlighted how the song could have gone so terribly wrong if this had been the initial production.
Maybe that’s the vibe they were going for this time around, but it totally doesn’t work for me. My college roommate had only known “Eat For Two” in its Unplugged version and when I had him listen to the original, he thought it was “cheesy” and “too fast.” I guess, like so many things in life, it’s all a matter of perspective.