The Good: Good vocals, Great lyrics, Good instrumental accompaniment.
The Bad: Poor use of the medium
The Basics: Natalie Merchant's original cut of "Jealousy" is a perfect song and it is strong enough for me to recommend the c.d. single on its own.
Back when I was in college, I heard an incredible song. It was a wonderful blending of vocals, instrumentals and decent lyrics. I was taken with it. Then, one day, I was hanging around the dorms my first year of college and I heard the song begin to play and I wandered over to the room it was coming from and by the time I was there, I was disgusted. The song in both cases was "Jealousy" by Natalie Merchant and I was absolutely baffled why the second version was in existence when the second one was, arguably, a perfect song. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you did not hear the original version of "Jealousy" which was sent to radio stations before Merchant recut the song. It is the recut version which is on her solo album debut, Tigerlily.
But on the one-track "Jealousy" c.d. single, fans who go through the effort of hunting the disc down are rewarded for their efforts by getting to hear the original mix of the song. There is another "Jealousy" c.d. single, which was the one available en masse for sale. That one, however, has the remix track and a cover song. The original one-track which was sent to radio stations may well be the only way to get the original easily these days.
The difference, as they say, is all the difference. The one-track version of "Jealousy" is a slow, sad piano-driven ballad which is lonesome with vocals that are torn up with genuine angst. In short, Merchant wrote and sang about the emotion in a way that showed the emotion, she did not just tell the listener the emotion. The subsequent version was given an upbeat tempo, was guitar-driven and sounded more like a ridiculous ditty. But on the one-track "Jealousy," the original reigns and it is extraordinary.
First, Natalie Merchant has an exceptional soprano voice on "Jealousy." She draws out her notes to create a sense of longing and insecurity while still enunciating each word she is singing. Moreover, she goes into the alto range for some of the emotionally darker points and this works to her advantage well for giving the song an emotional resonance which deep and connotes the anger component of jealousy.
Second, the instrumental accompaniment on "Jealousy" is deliciously stark. Merchant accompanies herself on her piano (I saw her perform this song with the original tone live at Lilith Fair one year and she was extraordinary) and she makes the ballad slow and wrenching, infusing lighter chords with some of her lines to infuse an unsettling aspect I can only define as music which is paranoia-inducing. She presents her song with minimal additional production which keeps a decent balance between the piano and her voice and this has a memorable tune. The piano work is as haunting as the vocals and Merchant is careful to give both instruments (her voice and her piano) a voice.
Finally, "Jealousy" is a well-written song. Merchant wrote "Jealousy" and it has a wonderful sense of poetics. With the slower version, when she sings "Is she the sort / You've always said / Could satisfy / Your head? / Ooo, my jealousy / Does she talk / The way I do / Is her voice reminding you / Of the promises / The little white lies too / Sometimes, tell me / While she's touching you / Just by mistake / Accidentally do you say my name?" ("Jealousy") it is infused with all the meanings, all the emotions that come with the complex emotion of jealousy. Unfortunately, making the song into a stupid pop song guts the resonance of those lines. This is the primary reason to go out and pick up the one-track version of "Jealousy," if you can find it.
The only real strike against this c.d. single is that it is a poor use of the medium. The c.d. has the capacity for about eighty minutes of music and this uses about five minutes of the disc's capacity. That's just a terrible waste.
That said, this version of the song is a perfect song and as this may be the last place one can reasonably expect to find it, I cannot sink this single. This is a c.d. single worth picking up, even if it might seem wasteful.
For other works by and including Natalie Merchant, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Our Time In Eden - 10,000 Maniacs
In My Tribe - 10,000 Maniacs
For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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