Rebellious Jukebox: Throwing Muses
For some reason they never seemed to attain the status that The Pixies did which I always thought was unfair though maybe understandable: the Pixies despite being fairly twisted by most standards were a more straight forwards proposition than Hersh’s band. They are the great unrated group that if you know them you love them. Kristin Hersh has had more success as a solo artist but could still be considered something of a cult phenomenon. The most success that was seen by a member of Throwing Muses was Tanya Donnelly’s Belly who had a one album surge of popularity that sadly evaporated by the second offering.
I came to the group ass-backwards through Kristin Hersh’s solo single ‘Your Ghost’ which I was hipped to by Michael Stipe’s presence on backing vocal duties — I suppose this is how a lot of people would have found them. The first album that I owned was House Tornado which was like Plath, Burroughs and a whole host of literary references that I shouldn’t include here all mashed up together and delivered with fierce guitars and one of the most distinctive female voices around. The whole loudquiteloud dynamic of the Pixies here had, for me at least, a weightier punch, a more emotional core. The front cover’s collage was like a map to how the music was put together — it was at once somehow domestic and otherworldly. Donnelly’s two track writing contribution to the group added a softer side but you sensed even just on one album’s evidence that this was Kristin’s show.
The next three albums I bought in a single trip to the music shop: ‘Hunkpapa’, ‘The Real Ramona’ and ‘Red Heaven’. Hunkpapa was softer and in some ways perhaps more whimsical than House Tornado had seemed. But it is one of those albums that has barbs buried in the ice cream sweetness. Shit, there is no wat to easily box up or pin down one of these albums. I think of ‘The Real Ramona’ as being more experimental sonically but when I say that it seems to set up a false opposition with the other albums that just doesn’t exist. Red Heaven has harder sound and seems more guitar driven than vocal driven which seems to be the way it falls with Hersh — her muse arriving either through what she sings or what she plays (this is pure conjecture I hasten to add).
The came University and the self titled album. ‘Throwing Muses’, having come to it almost last on my learning curve for this group, has that energy and chaos that often typifies a debut album. In my opinion it’s one of the best and most complete debuts I have in my collection and I have a lot of music — all the ingredients that we see played out and developed on later albums are within the whirling maelstrom of this offering. ‘University’ tops ‘The Real Ramona’ for experimentation — it is a fluid album, but possessed of the fluidity not so much of a stream but of the rippling heat haze of a desert. The first track ‘Bright Yellow Gun’ is an instant classic that punches you square in the solar plexus, whilst the rest of the tracks push that edge through some psychedelic surf guitar with the melodious punk sensibility Hersh is known for.
Limbo is the last one I am going to concern myself with, though it is not the last album, although it represents the closing of a chapter. It floats, it burns, it sizzles and pops and introduces into an electric landscape that perfectly fuses all the concerns of Hersh solo work and the previous Muses albums.
There isn’t a bum note in the whole of Hersh’s career as far as I am concerned and there isn’t one album that is a better entry point than another — they are all the kind of crazy-paved reflection you get from a broken mirror with themes and sounds traveling backwards and forwards through time to make something complete and timeless. Throwing Muses are an inspiration.