In compiling the best tracks from her four solo studio albums for Retrospective 1995-2005, Natalie Merchant calls attention to both the remarkable consistency and the subtle variety of her post10,000 Maniacs career. Merchant sings songs of political discontent and social consciousness: She can sound disillusioned or disappointed, frustrated or hopeful, wistful or wondrous, but she's always passionate and sincere, and her alluring alto sometimes disguises hard truths. Retrospective moves chronologically through Merchant's projects. "Wonder" and "Jealousy" from 1996's classic Tigerlily show Merchant at her most upbeat, and the single versions included here kick up the energy several notches compared to the original album tracks. As she notes in the anecdotes she penned for this compilation, on 1998's Ophelia, she consciously challenged herself to vary her approaches for each song: "Break Your Heart" with vocalist N'Dea Davenport and trumpeter Chris Botti owes a bit to Sting in its mix of smooth jazz and quiet funk, while "Kind & Generous" is joyfully slinky. "Build a Levee" from 2001's Motherland is soulful and dark, aided by Mavis Staples' harmonies. The stripped-down folk of "Owensboro" and "Sally Ann" from 2003's The House Carpenter's Daughter cap the album perfectly: They form a soft, earnest coda to the first decade of Merchant's solo career.