Spanning 31 songs and two discs, one covering "The Most Popular Recordings" (aka "The Hits") and one covering "The Obscure & Unknown Recordings" (aka "The B-Sides and Cover Versions"), Rhino/Elektra's 2004 compilation Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure & Unknown Recordings of 10,000 Maniacs is as good a career overview as could be assembled. The hits disc may miss a minor charting single like "Few and Far Between," but it has all the songs of note, from the hits to album tracks. Meanwhile, the rarities are devoted pretty much to B-side covers in addition to four previously unreleased demos, the early outtake "Poppy Selling Man," plus their cover of Cat Stevens
' "Peace Train," which was removed from latter-day editions of In My Tribe
. There's enjoyable stuff on both discs -- the singles "Like the Weather," "What's the Matter Here?," "Trouble Me," "Candy Everybody Wants," and "These Are Days" are very good indeed, laying the groundwork for adult alternative pop/rock, while the early demos on the second disc are livelier than most Maniacs
material and the Michael Stipe
duet on "To Sir With Love" is a priceless artifact from the height of Clinton optimism (which faded quite quickly). But even these moments have the Achilles' heel of a production that is far too big for the group's gentle simple songs. Overall this expertly assembled collection -- which is as good as a 10,000 Maniacs
anthology could be -- is best as a time capsule, capturing the earnest, precious optimism and PC nature of American college rock before grunge came along and dirtied everything up.