If there’s one trait that modern pop culture seems to disregard, it is sincerity. Artists who take themselves seriously and mean what they say leave themselves vulnerable to the pointed elbows of critics and the claws of gossip blogs. It’s no surprise, then, that Natalie Merchant does not trend on Twitter, that music videos of the ex-10,000 Maniacs frontwoman are rarely shared on “throwback Thursday” and that her songs don’t pop up on “American Idol.”
The poster woman for sincerity in pop music, Merchant has a new, self-titled album due out on May 6, focusing on, as she says in a news release, “taking the measure of lives lived by surveying the damage.” Why is she still relevant? As a nod to her former band, there are 10,000 reasons … but only so much space in this amNewYork. Instead, some excerpts:
Reason No. 72: Curation (covers)
One of Merchant’s biggest hits was a cover: 10,000 Maniacs’ reworking of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.” But throughout her career, the singer has a catalog of cover songs that perfectly fit her sensibility, such as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
Reason No. 361: Her sense of humor
Merchant has an understated sense of humor. Appearing on “Late Night with David Letterman” in the 1990s, Merchant started a performance of “Wonder” by throwing a bouquet to the audience after being referred to as “my new bride” by the show’s host throughout the evening.
Reason No. 442: Unafraid to be an adult
Natalie Merchant is five years younger than Madonna, but it’s a pretty good bet that she’ll never be seen running around the Super Bowl halftime show in a gladiator/cheerleader outfit.
Reason No. 1,532: Curation (poetry)
Her 2010 release, “Leave Your Sleep,” is a two-disc set of poems about childhood set to music, drawing from well known poets like e.e. cummings as well as obscure ones.
Reason No. 6,328: College radio
10,000 Maniacs, along with the kindred spirits like R.E.M., were darlings of the college radio circuit in the 1980s. It was bands like those that kept the “college rock” format alive amid the pop gloss of the era.
Reason No. 9,872: No cash grab
A reunited 10,000 Maniacs playing “These Are Days” for a summer would still draw in a good amount of nostalgia coin. Instead, Merchant continues to push ahead, with an album of new original songs (her first since 2001’s “Motherland”).
If you go:
Carnegie Hall on Saturday at 3 p.m., $10-$22.
881 Seventh Ave. 212-247-7800