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October 29, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

Originally, MTV Unplugged served as a riveting aural makeover for decibel-dependent bands. The recently disbanded 10,000 Maniacs, however, use the forum to create a fan-friendly, greatest-hits live album, Unplugged (Elektra). Their brand of pleasant guitar jangle—which sometimes trickles over a dense organ moan or a somber string section—doesn’t deviate that much from what we’ve already been sold. If anything, the boys often play in a catatonic haze, which renders all their tunes too similar for extended interest. And all their efforts are dwarfed by the mighty Stevie Nicks-on-helium voice of Natalie Merchant.

Despite the lofty quality of that voice, Merchant is one heavy-mettle chick. Her levity-free lyrics, although politically correct, sound like descendants of composition-notebook scribblings tucked away in the locker of an artsy high school loner. If life were cool, Merchant would use her new solo career to cut loose and do a show called Plugged. Then she could adopt an Axl Rose adrenaline squall, dip her ‘do into a vat of Aqua Net, and come out screaming, ”With a shiver in my bones/Just thinking about the freaky weather.” Now, that would be interesting. B-

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