January 2018
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If I Were A Man, I’d Have A Gun

‘The Real Ramona’, the 1991 album from the Throwing Muses seems to me to represent a beachhead of sorts, a culmination of where the band had been headed, and a pointer to the divergent paths the members of the band would follow over the subsequent ten years.

From their early releases it was obvious that the Muses were unique. Their songs had a glorious habit of switching tack midstream, a discordant guitar thrash segueing into a blissful lullaby, and just when you found yourself adjusted to the switch, Kristin Hersh would start screaming again and throw you back off of the loop.

The reissue of the first album, 1998’s ‘In A Doghouse’ has a revealing quote from Kristin that explains their early sound far better than I ever could.

‘I swear to God, we thought we were a party band. As Throwing Muses, at age oh, sixteen or seventeen, we were gleefully impressed with ourselves and our ability to bring joy to people through sound. We were then stunned and horrified to see audiences react with something like stunned horror.’

As the band matured and their popularity grew, although their quirks remained evident, their song writing became more traditional. By the time of ‘Hunkpapa’ they came close to having a hit single, and the Tanya Donelly compositions were the ones that stuck closest to the old fractured template.

‘The Real Ramona’ marked Donelly’s last appearance to date on a Muses record. She authored two songs on the album, the giant steps she was making were becoming obvious, and the world wanted her to write more than two songs every couple of years.‘Not Too Soon’ may well have been the poppiest thing that the Muses ever recorded; it was the only Muses single 4AD released that wasn’t Kristin’s composition. It had ‘crossover hit’ written all over it. But it wasn’t.

With hindsight, Kristin’s songs on the album are more interesting. On some of the tracks, most notably ;Hook In Her Head’ and the new version of ‘Say Goodbye’, she was indulging in guitar hooks and feedback, and somehow the results were thrilling.

On other tracks, particularly ‘Two Step’ she slowed everything down, until all that mattered was Kristin and a guitar, and the guitar not much. It was one of the simplest songs she had written, and she sounded brutally, painfully, beautifully exposed.

Following this album, Tanya has been responsible for four more albums, first as the driving force behind Belly, and with two subsequent solo albums.

The next album from the Muses, ‘Red Heaven’ ran with the electric guitar/ feedback template, is probably the most conventional thing that Kristin ever recorded, and yet, with the volume turned up loud, it still has the power to turn you inside out.

Parallel to this, she released her first couple of solo albums, playing with the singer / songwriter thing, exposing herself on record even more, painfully honest.

Some time in the mid nineties, prompted by monetary issues, the Muses ceased to be and Kristin continued with her solo career, and I took her more and more for granted.

So what’s prompted this? There’s a new Muses album coming out on 4AD in March. Although I don’t know quite how heavy her involvement is, it’s the first album since ‘The Real Ramona’ to feature contributions from Tanya, and, well, I guess you sometimes don’t realise how much you love something until you have to manage without for a while.

Some time last year, I made a list of my ten favourite albums of all time, and, much to my surprise, ‘The Real Ramona’ slotted right in. It was an album that I hadn’t listened to for a long time, and yet one that I knew intimately. I don’t know if the new album can live up to the huge weight of expectation that I’m placing on it, but I don’t care. I have tickets for the London show, and for me, the new Throwing Muses album is the one I’m most excited about this year.

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