KRISTIN HERSH - Strange Angels (4AD - CAD 8003 CD) and THROWING MUSES - In A Doghouse (4AD - DAD607 CD)
And so he finally gets round to reviewing "Strange Angels" and just for comparison chucks in Kirstin's former band's "In A Doghouse".
Part of the reason it's taken me so long to review "Strange Angels" is that I've never felt that I knew the LP well enough to review it. Actually I still don't, but I've decided that I can put off the dark day no longer. The truth is, I don't really like it all that much. It's starts off promisingly enough with "Home" and "Like You", but quickly it all begins to sound the same. Like "Hips & Makers", her first solo LP, this is dominateed by Kristin and her acoustic guitar. But this is certainly a less varied album than that first solo LP, which seemed to have more different textures, and after a few songs you end up longing for loud electric guitars. I'd have to say that I would listen to all the Muses albums (with the exception of 'Red Heaven') before the first solo album, but this one is on a par with the dirgey 'Red Heaven' sadly. Kristin has stated that this was the first time that she was comfortable to step out from behind that guitar noise, but I'm longing for that noise to return.
Which brings us rather nicely to "In A Doghouse". It's a bit of an odd record as it's a double CD featuring one CD which has all been released in the UK. This betrays its American origins where the debut "Throwing Muses" has apparently never been commercially released. So chances are you have heard this, loved it and valued it as a classic in your collection. If you haven't, well why not? Certainly the stronger disc of the two in this compilation, "Throwing Muses" is scary, sexy, innovative , original. schizophrenic and completely wonderful. This band sounded like no-one else on the planet and so comparisons are difficult. The tunes meshed wiry, angular guitars with scary apocalyptic vocals and soothing melodies, often in the same song. Take "Call Me" - it's just that exactly - a manic opening which suddenly calms down into this gorgoeus finale with chiming guitars. Nine of the ten tracks were written by Kristin, the exception being "Green" by Tanya, which is in retropect just a lot less wired than the rest of the album. David's drumming also adds another dimension to these tracks
The remainder of Disc 1 is the Chains Changed EP, making its first appearance on CD, which opened up the Muses' sound a lot. "Finished" is another claustrophobic track with one of those odd Muses' riffs that characterised their early sound, whilst "Reel" is another Tanya composition which showcases another of the band's strengths, those elusive melodies which keep dragging you back again, with those insistent rhythms driving the song on. "Snailhead" is slightly more conventional, deriving from the hoe-down influenced side of their music, but somehow what is a fast song to start with speeds up halfway through. The nearest song to conventional rock music here is "Cry Baby Cry" all jangly and acoustic guitars at beakneck speed, although the song might have benefitted from being a wee bit shorter.
So Disc 1 justifies the purchase price for the uninitiated, but for the long term fans it's Disc 2 which holds more interest. This comprises the band's original demo "The Doghouse Cassette", which got them signed to 4AD, 5 tracks written in 1983 but recorded in 1996 and an enhanced program of the "Fish" video. The Doghouse cassette has 6 tracks which made it onto the debut album, one which made it onto "The Fat Skier" EP , "Fish" which was on the 4AD compilation "Lonely Is An Eyesore" and 2 otherwise unreleased tracks. The previously released songs can fairly be described as lo-fi versions of the album versions, but are probably even more scary BECAUSE YOU CAN CLEARLY HEAR THE WORDS! Otherwise "Sinkhole" is a disappointing Muses' hoe-down without any twists whilst "Raise The Roses" is an earlier and inferior version of Belly's "Dusted". The remaining five however are all pretty good. "Catch" sounds like it could have been on "Limbo" and is the most disppointing of the 5, but there's a wonderful Muses' rock noise on the others , "Doghouse" is largely instrumental, but an adrenalin infused noise with adrenalin infused vocals.
Unfortunately my PC isn't terribly keen on Disc 2; I have managed to watch "Fish" once, but the sound was poor and I'm not sure if the video was playing particularly well either. Still, if your PC likes it it will be fine.
Long term Muses' acolytes will want this to complete their collections, but for anyone who has never heard the early Muses, then this will be a revelation. But hurry, it's supposed to be a limited edition.
Kristin Hersh Index *** Throwing Muses Index