May 26 — “Planned Obsolescence” by 10,000 Maniacs

10,000 Maniacs

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Planned Obsolescence” by 10,000 Maniacs (1982, from the EP Human Conflict Number Five).
10,000 Maniacs is an alternative rock band from Jamestown, New York. They were founded in 1981, and the current lineup is nothing at all like the original one. Bassist Steve Gustafson and keyboard player
Dennis Drew are the only members who have been constant in the band’s 31 year existence. Their most notable member — the member who in fact was the band– was singer Natalie Merchant. When they first got started, they called themselves Still Life. Merchant wasn’t a founding member, and she was only 17 at the time. She was, though, asked to join. Within months, they changed their name from Still Life to Burn Victims, and then to 10,000 Maniacs. That name was an homage to a low-budget slasher movie called Two Thousand Maniacs.

They were known as an “alternative” band in their early years, and then more of a mainstream rock band by the late 1990s. Natalie Merchant left the band in 1993. Since then, Mary Ramsey and Oskar Saville alternated lead vocal duties. Ramsey from 1993-2002. Saville from 2002-2007, and Ramsey again from 2007- present. They haven’t released an album since 1999 and they haven’t played more than a handful of shows, so I’m not really sure why they’re considered to be an “active” band. Either way, they “real” 10,000 Maniacs ceased to exist in 1992 when Merchant left the band to pursue her solo career.

Today’s song comes from the Human Conflict Number Five EP, which was the first record they ever put out. I’m featuring it because it’s an amazing song that’s a bit removed from what most people think of when they hear “10,000 Maniacs”. Yes. This isn’t much like their memorable hits “Like The Weather” or “Trouble Me”. It’s edgy and rough. I love it.

“Planned Obsolescence” by 10,000 Maniacs

Yesterday, when I featured the Dinosaur Jr. cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, I said that the rubbery, warbly guitar bit in that song reminds me a lot of the weird rubbery guitar part in this song. Listen to them both, and you’ll see how Dinosaur Jr. sounds like 10,000 Maniacs.

Also worth noting is the thick bass line.

There’s some debate as to what this song is about. The lyrics refer to science making religion obsolete, but the speculation is that Merchant wrote that stuff to be ironic.

It starts with:

Science is truth for life
Watch religion fall obsolete

then rambles on with some nice wordplay, but some strange imagery, then the song concludes with:

Discovery
Dissolved all illusion
Mystery
Destroyed with conclusion
And illusion never restored
Any modern man can see
That religion is
Obsolete
Piety Obsolete
Ritual Obsolete
Martyrdom Obsolete
Prophetic vision Obsolete
Mysticism Obsolete
Commitment Obsolete
Sacrament Obsolete
Revelation Obsolete

I’m not sure that I see the “irony” angle there. And I don’t even care whether this is an “anti-religion” or “anti-religion is ridiculous” song. The meaning isn’t going to change the fact that it’s a great song.

It’s possible that there’s reference to Occam’s Razor, which is the principle of choosing the simpler of two competing theories. The funny bit is that when it comes to creation versus evolution, each side insists that their argument is tidier and more succinct. We’re not here to discuss science or religion or to choose sides. We’re here for the music.

Enjoy.

This version of the song is the one that you’re better off getting. It appears on the Hope Chest: Fredonia Recordings 1982-1983 compilation album of the early songs. You can buy that from the amazon store here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

2 responses to “May 26 — “Planned Obsolescence” by 10,000 Maniacs

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