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4.8 out of 5 stars48
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 30 March 2004
This is a gorgeous album, packed with stunningly good melodies and arrangements. It is lush, epic, and beautifully written and performed. Natalie Merchant's voice is a thing of startling loveliness, delicacy and emotional depth. Piano, cello, violin and delicate guitar contribute enormously on every track. Peter Yanowitz' trumpet on Break Your Heart is divine. Although the album demands some emotional maturity in the listener, as evidenced by some of the negative reviews here, many of the songs can only be described as uplifting.
Outstanding, classic tracks include 'Ophelia', 'Life is Sweet', 'Frozen Charlotte' and 'The Living'. Only two tracks tend to disappoint - 'Kind and Generous', with its simplistic happy-clappy lyrics, and 'When They Ring the Golden Bells', on which the initial section is marred by Karen Perlis' rather saccharine guest vocals.
Listening to this album, the most depressing thought that comes to my mind is that someone who would appreciate and enjoy it might be put off by the unhelpful, aggressive Amazon review. Complaints about emotional tone are completely inappropriate - what next, reviews of Gregorian chants saying "this is a bit of a downer, lighten up lads!" Grow up Michael, this is Amazon, not NME - you're here to sell albums, not rip them to shreds. The only pretension here is your own.
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on 11 December 2001
Throughout the years Natalie Merchant has been many women, a barefoot folkie helicopter dancing around a stage, a PSA doyen preaching to the converted, and a musical earth mother. She grew up in 10,000 Maniacs, and its not surprising that when she produced Tigerlily it was as un-Maniacal is you could imagine..... or so I thought at the time. Then she gave birth to Ophelia, her latest baby, and boy does she not sound like her sisters.
Ophelia is a lush, orchestral monument to Merchants own feminine vanity, but while it could have been a true folly it stands as her greatest triumph to date. From the opening intonation of Ophelia (wherein Merchant play acts herself as all the things she's not been yet), to the closing intonation of, well, Ophelia Reprised, this is Merchant throwing her heart and soul into a musical project in a way she hasn't seemed to since In My Tribe. Only "Kind and Generous" and "Effigy" grate, the former because of the Hallmark sentimentality and the latter because even on an album this good there is limits to the acceptibility of pretension which are reached at Tibetan translations. The earnest beauty of tracks like "My Skin" and the fierce passion of "Thick As Thieves" stand out, and Merchant and Karen Peris certainly give it their all on "When They Ring The Golden Bells".
Peris is also present for one of Ophelia's (and possibly mErchant's career's) finest moments. "Frozen Charlotte" is a love song of astonishing beauty. The tenderness of both women's voices is touching, while the gentle patience that Merchant's character displays to the hurt Peris is almost heart-breaking, it is worth the cost of the album alone.
Retrospectively, Ophelia eclipses In My Tribe to my mind as Merchant's best work- and the guests all bring their own touch to the songs. But this is Natalie Merchant's show, she is suffragette, whore, demi-goddess and Human Cannonball. She is quite simply magnificent.
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VINE VOICEon 25 March 2003
I don't know where to start, I have hundreds of albums but this is in my top 5. Yes I know everything is personal to everyone and it is all relative, but I defy anyone not to be washed out to sea with the powerful tones of the opener Ophelia, and what follows.
I am loathed to mention every song because people should find out for themselves but I have to mention Frozen Charlotte as one other reviewer has done. The two most beautiful voices you will ever hear will simultaneously set your soul free and chain your heart to the ground. If you didn't have a broken heart you do now.
I wish everyone could listen to this album, not only to demonstrate how good music can be but to make a corner of your life, maybe a little darker but also a lot more beautiful. Worth so much more than the purchase price, I wish all music was this intelligent, heartbreaking and beautifully rendered.
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on 4 June 2001
Just bought my first Natalie Merchant album. I've heard snippets of her on the radio, but let's face it, with a limited budget you can never buy all the CDs that sound interesting. I am truly captivated by Ophelia, the unmistakeable tremor in the voice, the beautiful harmonies - I wonder why she has not had more acclaim yet. Shame about the naff cover, but the music is out of this world. Can't wait to get the rest of her albums.
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on 7 June 2002
I was introduced to the music of Natalie Merchant by catching Break Your Heart every now and then on VH1. I couldn't believe how a voice like hers and her lyrical talent had been over looked by the public eye or ears in this matter. I went on a crusade to find her music and finally did in the form of this album.
Ophelia is spectacular with songs like Thick as Thieves (which is my personal favourite), Break Your Heart and Life is Sweet. Each one of these songs effects you in some way whether it is to almost cry at the sadness or smile at the near irony of the lyrics.
I love this album and have since purchased Motherland and Tigerlily and though both are good, Ophelia has something in it that i can not explain.
Natalie Merchant is a star and it is strange that there isn't more recognition for her work.
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on 7 May 2006
Stunning, simply stunning. It's dark, deep, sad, depressing, emotive, atmospheric, emotional and one hell of a journey from start to finish. If you want 'pop' don't buy this! If you like expressive lyrics sung by a haunting voice then this is the best you can do.

"My Skin" is as dark and depressing as you can get. Yet, by the time the full instrumental ending kicks in, it becomes one of the most uplifting pieces of music you can listen to.

Natalie Merchant IS acquired taste. But without sampling, your life will be poorer for it!
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on 8 December 1999
From the opening cord to the last whisper of the dying note, this album is perfection in every musical sense. The notes float together to reinforce and become the words that form the images of feelings that you could never vocalise. Every song shines from the unsupassable "Life is Sweet" to "Effigy". The point is I could write forever on what the songs mean to me, but its YOU that they are written for, that bunch of notes and words may take me somewhere very different to where you are going to be taken. We all have lost and hidden memories, this album expresses them all perfectly in ways we can never truely can.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 7 September 2010
It`s taken me some years to `get` Natalie M, but this beautiful album has done the trick. It`s a stunner from beginning to end, one of those collections of songs from which it`s invidious to select `favourite` tracks. However, after the six impeccable songs that open this unique, often subdued, album, there comes a song that`ll shape-shift your equilibrium, move you where you sit or stand to somewhere a little different. It`s called King Of May, and is simply the best thing I`ve heard since - ooh, since a friend introduced me to Del Amitri and their strangely underrated work (but that`s another story).
The other four songs are just as good...this is that rare thing: perfection.
NM obviously takes great & loving care over her music, and how it is released and packaged. She`s shown in various guises - vamp, bookworm, nun, fag-ash-Lil, etc - on the cover, reflecting the way in which she apparently seeks to speak for women of all kinds. A reviewer elsewhere complains of these choices, implying that the photos of NM in a sometimes unflattering light in some way demeans her. Well, there is always someone who`ll get the wrong end of the stick.
I can`t imagine her having made a better album than Ophelia - which will accompany me through the rest of my life - but I know that finding out will be a fascinating quest.
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on 21 February 2007
"Ophelia", "Life is Sweet" and "My Skin" break my heart. I am so glad I came across such profound songs.

I first listened to this CD 4 years ago, when cherry blossom were in full bloom. So I take out this CD when spring comes - when the sun has just set, and warm spring darkness creeps in from the open windows, I sit in the dying light and put this CD on (drama queen).

Like Sarah McLachlan's "Surfacing", the tunes are sometimes too painful to listen to, but they are still my treasures.
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on 16 May 2001
I bought this kinda by mistake - meant to by a Kristin Hersh Lp - guess I confused Throwing Muses and 10,000 Maniacs. However, I'm very glad. This Lp is simply fantastic. There's not a duff track - personal favourites (so far, after 2 days repeated listening) are Life Is Sweet - the kinda song that makes all the bad things on one's mind slip away; and - well, all of 'em. Buy it, it's great.
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