Having now become a studied expert in 10000 Maniacistism I can say that with the exception of some highlights and Natalie Merchant's good if not transcendent voice that their music suffers from a painfully constructed pleasantness. I'm not saying that the Maniacs were wimps, except maybe ina more roundabout & educated way. But there is a markedly hollow unwillingness to disturb with a screamed out Fuck every now and then or the occasional stomp on a distortion pedal. There's a bloodlessness about them that can inspire a bruised and empty sort of anger, an absence of music's special liberating power to resonate in a way that lets us feel without naming and boxing that feeling.
The Maniacs were "socially conscious" in a generally left-of-center way. This is not of course an evil thing and may in fact be the only thing that makes the band less bad or banal than Hootie and the Blowfish for whoever might be keeping that score. The problem is that they were not really a "political" band; writing songs that rallied crowds to bond over a shared anger or aspiration. They were only just "socially conscious" checking off their dutiful concerns song by song in a Catachismic sort of way. In the song "Cherry Tree" for example Merchant tries to sing from the point of view of an illiterate adult in her own natural cadence of educated easterner. It's a s awkward as you might guess.
Though the Maniacs do again have their highlights, a few cases where Merchant has a real emotional commitment to the Issue of The Song and the sound startlingly improves. "Don't Talk" is s nice simmering tune about alcoholism addressed to no one directly. (though the Maniacs guitar player did die of liver failure at 42. Occam's razor that for yourself) While Like the Weather remains a smartly done construct of what Manic Depression is even if you listen to it twenty times in a week (As So I have.) with Merchant's lyrics about being frozen to bed by sadness a brilliant contrast to the bright-sounding music. Overall though the trouble with this band is best reflected in their famous cover of Patti Smith's "Because the Night" Their version is technically deft in sound and voice but when compared to Smith's original the absence of heat in a song about sex is mournfully apparent.