By Arlo Winokur, Staff Writer
“Tower of Babel” is the second single from Natalie Merchant’s latest album, Keep Your Courage. The American singer-songwriter’s solo career started in 1995 with the release of her classic album Tigerlily.
Keep Your Courage is Merchant’s first new album in six years! Before her career as a solo artist, she was the lead singer in the band 10,000 Maniacs. The iconic group’s recording career began in 1982.
A House Divided
The message of “Tower of Babel” is clear and poignant. Merchant laments our current social climate—one of intense division.
The biblical story of the Tower of Babel, from which the song gets its name, is perhaps the oldest example of this phenomenon. A group of people decided to build a tall tower that would reach the heavens and make them like God. Instead of achieving their goal, these people scattered across the Earth. Additionally, each group started to speak different languages. Although they once had a unified purpose, they became doomed to fight amongst themselves.
Sound familiar? Natalie Merchant sure thinks so. She uses the example of the Tower of Babel to critique our current social division and disagreement. The language she uses, a paraphrase of Lincoln’s “A house divided cannot stand,” drives home that this is not just a mythical story, but a real world.
Ultimately, the musician introduces listeners to the American Tower of Babel. Ever topical, the song's release comes at a time when communication and understanding between people from different backgrounds and cultures are more important than ever.
The Sound of Babel
Musically, "Tower of Babel" is a haunting and melodic track that showcases Merchant's powerful voice and unique style. The song's instrumentation is sparse, with a simple piano melody and subtle percussion that allow Merchant's vocals to take center stage. The horns provided by trombonist Steve Davis give the song a full feeling. Likewise, the use of harmonies and layered vocals adds depth and texture to the track, creating a sense of richness and complexity that mirrors the song's themes.
What’s Next for Natalie Merchant?
Natalie Merchant is embarking on a tour to support Keep Your Courage. Starting with stops all across the U.S., Merchant will play European shows late in 2023. She’ll be in Boston at the Emerson Colonial Theatre on May 10th and 11th, so be sure to grab tickets for one or both nights!
Every Monday, our music staff brings you a new Pick of The Week, detailing some of our favorite songs. Check out our previous Picks of the Week here, and make sure to tune in to WERS 88.9FM!