Time Capsule is a DVD featuring music videos and concert footage by the cult eighties/nineties group 10,000 Maniacs and was first released on video in 1990. While the compilation is hardly comprehensive and some of the footage here is rather grainy, DVDs themed around this group seem to be very rare and Time Capsule does contain archive you won't find on YouTube so it's not a bad purchase and if you are a fan of Natalie Merchant you should enjoy it as she's (of course) the focal point throughout as the lead singer. The DVD begins with National Education Week - a song taken from the album Hope Chest. It's a keyboard driven song that sounds a bit reggae and isn't really one of my favourites despite the kooky and likeable vocal from Natalie Merchant. The promo film features real life footage of Merchant as a child taken by her parents. We see her starting to get into music and attending her first communion etc. Quite interesting and bittersweet. Tension is next and a great song from the album Hope Chest. It's very poppy and catchy and Natalie Merchant's vocal is very light and likeable, leading us through the song in engaging fashion. It was inspired by Merchant visiting her grandparents house just after they had died and surveying the lifetime of memories and things they had bought together. The footage here is some (not very crystalline) material of the group live in various venues in the early eighties. Not brilliant but it works well enough with what is an irresistible song. Pit Viper is next and a nice enough song again from the album Hope Chest and comes with a black and white film made by the band's keyboardist Dennis Drew. It's not exactly Stanley Kubrick but it features Natalie Merchant in a prominent role and so always manages to hold one's attention. Scorpio Rising is from the album The Wishing Chair and a faster than usual song for this group that consequently sounds better live and has a decent amount of energy and spark with Merchant able to improvise more with her phrasing and inflections. The footage here is taken from 10,000 Maniacs performing in Jamestown in 1985 and Natalie Merchant has a long black dress on that makes it look as if she's about to go out to dinner. Makes a change from her usual dressed down clobber.
Maddox Table is a pleasant jingle jangle song with very Natalie Merchant-esque vocals. The music video doesn't feature the group but instead archive colour 1940s footage of small town America. Workers streaming out of a factory, someone working the newspaper presses, little orange buses, schoolchildren. It's probably less interesting than actual footage of the group but the images work well with the song. My Mother The War is a memorable song from The wishing Chair (that John Peel apparently regarded to be the best song of 1983). It's performed here by the group on the famous Channel 4 television series The Tube and was 10,000 Maniacs first appearance on British television. The picture quality is rather grainy (and the audience look completely bemused) but Natalie Merchant's whirling amateur dancing and eccentricity is a lot of fun. She looks like she's dressed in ill-fitting charity shop clothes and seems to be enjoying herself. Don't Talk is a song from the album In My Tribe and one of the stronger songs from the group. Natalie Merchant sings about a fading relationship and the yearning to remain in a fantasy world and the struggle to accept reality. The lyrics are excellent here. "Don't talk, I will listen. Don't talk, you keep your distance, for I'd rather hear some truth tonight than entertain your lies, so take you poison silently. Let me be. Let me close my eyes." The music promo features footage of the group at a 1987 concert in Paris and is shot somewhat in the style of those Smiths promos Derek Jarman made in the eighties. A very grey blue colour scheme and a slightly grainy abstract look with some jump cuts. Natalie Merchant is a charismatic focal point for the promo with her voice and darkly brown eyes the stars although the rest of the group is rather geeky and look like a barber shop quartet. Wildwood Flower was not an album song but it's a breezy and likeable tune and backed by footage of the group on the road around 1987. They hop on tour buses and go to the beach etc.
Like the Weather is a very poppy song from In My Tribe about a housebound person who can't get out of bed. Great lyrics vocals on this one. "Colour of the, sky as far as I can see is coal grey, Lift my head from the pillow and then fall again, Shiver in my bones, just thinking about the weather, Quiver in my lip as if I might cry, Well by the force of will my lungs are filled and so I breathe, Lately it seems this big bed is where I never leave, Shiver in my bones, just thinking about the weather." The promo video is somewhat garish and dated and features Natalie Merchant whirling around a colour strewn empty house with a red dress on. Believe it or not it was directed by the British comedian Ade Edmondson of The Young Ones and Bottom fame. I had no idea whatsoever he used to direct music videos until I watched this. I Have Dreams is not a song but a Direct Effect Public Service Announcement about homeless children in New York by Natalie Merchant while What's the Matter Here? is a great song taken from What's My Tribe. It sounds like an upbeat life affirming song on first glance but is about the almost unnoticed domestic abuse of a child with Merchant as a bemused onlooker yearning to say her two pence to the parent. "That young boy without a name anywhere I'd know his face, In this city the kid's my favorite, I've seen him, I see him every day, Seen him run outside looking for a place to hide from his father, the kid half naked and said to myself O, what's the matter here?, I'm tired of the excuses everybody uses, he's their kid I stay out of it, but who gave you the right to do this?" The video by Matt Mahurin intercuts shots of anachronistic children playing and larking about in an old-fashioned Little House on the Prairie type environment with Natalie Merchant singing in dark shadows so you sometimes only focus on her face.
Hateful Hate is a powerful song from Blind Man's Zoo and has the group and their lead singer in melodramatic mood. This is sort of like their version of The Smiths Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me in terms of the mood and music. The promo has some archive footage of the group in concert and also some 1930s film of images in Africa. Be warned there is some footage of an elephant being hunted that animal lovers like me will certainly want to skip. Natalie Merchant is a famous vegan so presumably wanted to make a point about cruelty to animals. Trouble Me is nice slow song from Blind Man's zoo that isn't remarkable but gains a boost from the vocal. The dexterity of Merchant here as she speeds up and slows down at alternate points for maximum is very impressive. The music video was directed by Yurek Bogayevicz and features Natalie Merchant in a blue flowery dress and white straw hat visiting the residents of an old people's home to cheer them up! Eat for Two features a nice promo by Adam Bernstein and is a superior song - although it probably sounded even better live. It's about a girl who is pregnant but is probably too young for such responsibility. "Baby blankets and baby shoes, baby slippers, baby spoons, walls of baby blue. Dream child in my head is a nightmare born in a borrowed bed. Now I know lightning strikes again. It struck me once, then struck me dead. My folly grows inside of me. I eat for two, walk for two, breathe for two now." Dust Bowl is taken from the DVD version of their MTV unplugged album. Basically Natalie Merchant on a stool in a New York studio (and looking quite dressed up for her) and singing beautifully. Hello In There is an ok song taken from a performance at a festival in Glasgow in 1990. Natalie Merchant is joined by Michael Stipe for the vocals and irritating millionaire socialist with bizarre accent Billy Bragg manages to stick his beak in too. Finally, there a performance themed promo for You Happy Puppet from Blind Man's Zoo.
Time Capsule is a somewhat eccentric collection and does seem slightly cobbled together but there is just about enough rare stuff here to make it worth a look and if you like Natalie Merchant then you should be happy enough. The actual songs themselves still sound wonderful for the most part. There are no extras with this DVD and at the time of writing it's available to buy for under five pounds.