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A chilly Northern light shines upon the tracks of Ophelia (1998), Natalie Merchant’s second solo album. Of course, she betrayed a morose streak during her days with her former band, 10,000 Maniacs. Even by those standards, though, this is a darkly introspective effort. Merchant’s vocals suggest a young girl embodying the spirit of an old woman. There’s a reoccurring theme of thwarted souls crying out for understanding in these songs — tunes like “Frozen Charlotte,” “My Skin” and “The Living” smolder with subdued desperation. There’s a feminist strain as well, present in the title track, a panoramic evocation of remarkable women. Merchant shakes off the melancholy a little with “Life Is Sweet” and “Kind & Generous,” but any happiness seems fragile. Sonically, Ophelia is dominated by her Wurlitzer piano, its shivery tones adding to the winter-like mood. A hope of heavenly reward is offered when the Innocence Mission’s Karen Peris joins Merchant on the 19th Century hymn “When They Ring The Golden Bells.” Still, this is definitely not the feel-good album of the 1990s. Ophelia is a work of pastel colors and bruised emotions, bathed in an often beautiful sadness.

Customer Reviews

The best by one of the most talented songwriters of our time.

This album is by far, the best Natalie has recorded to date. From the dreamy etherial "Ophelia" to the folky "When They Ring Them Golden Bells" she does not miss. Some standouts: the title track, "King of May", "My Skin" and the heartbreakingly tragic "The Living". For anyone who likes their music beautiful, but sad, this album is a must have.


The clarity and range of Natalie Merchant's voice is amazing. Each whispered lyric penetrates just as deeply as its powerfully delivered counterpart. Every lyric is deepened by her passionate voice. I can't do her justice without merely pointing to the samples below. There are absolutely no throwaway songs in Ophelia, in my honest opinion. From the soft, yet resonating opener that is Ophelia to the broken-spirited My Skin, all the way through to the triumphant and heartfelt finale, When They Ring Them Golden Bells. I cannot recommend this gem of an album enough. Some of these in the most poweful, piano-driven songs I have ever heard. If you were on the edge of deciding whether or not this album would earn your money, buy just one song to test the waters. I can assure you that if you like one, you will definitely fall for the entire album.


i grew up witht his album and it still mystifies me how this music can still keep me coming back even after 15 years of listening to it all the way through.. on repeat.


Born: October 26, 1963 in Jamestown, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

After rising to fame at the helm of the popular folk-rock band 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant enjoyed even greater success as a solo artist during the mid-'90s. Her literate, socially conscious songs established her among the preeminent women in pop music, while her solo debut -- 1995's Tigerlily -- helped pave the way for a number of female performers in a pre-Lilith Fair market. She continued releasing albums well into the 2000s, often examining specific genres or subjects, although Tigerlily...
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Top Albums and Songs by Natalie Merchant

Ophelia, Natalie Merchant
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