366 Songs 229: Candy Everybody Wants

Oh, 1990s alternative music. What did you do to me?

I really liked this song, when it was released (which was… 1992, apparently); I can remember listening to it over and over again, alternating it with the R.E.M. that I was getting into at the time, and wondering whether I had a crush on Natalie Merchant* or not, and feeling guilty about the possibility that I did. Listening to it again now, for the first time in many, many years, I am struck by the way the production reminds me of Paul Simon’s Graceland album from six years prior, with the weirdly suffocating jangly guitars and soulless horn section (Especially surprising, considering it’s James Brown’s backing horns providing them, with Maceo Parker involved as well). There’s an unappealing sanctimoniousness about the lyrics, too: “If lust and hate are the candy/If blood and love tastes so sweet/Then we give ’em what they want” is, in some strange way, entirely offputting an opening to the song, some kind of superior judgment that makes Merchant and friends seem alien and uncaring.

Amusingly, listening to this again today, I realized that the version that lived in my head was the live version with Michael Stipe doing co-vocals:

There’s something loose and joyful in his performance that the song just feels entirely different. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

(* Watching the video today, for the first time ever, Merchant reminds me of Parker Posey; if they ever do a Natalie Merchant biopic, clearly they need to cast Posey in the lead.)