If Webster's decided to include an entry for "anti-pop" in its next edition, the definition might go something like this:
1. music lacking in pop conventions (i.e., catchy choruses and fat hooks). 2. music with rapid-fire changes in tempo, texture and mood. 3. music rarely featured on "hot hits" stations or American Top 40 with Shadoe Stevens. Synonym: See Throwing Muses.
In many ways, Throwing Muses was the archetypal anti-pop band of the Eighties. Starting with its 1986 self-titled debut, the Boston band specialized in wonderfully fractured tunes that defied conventional song structures. But the Muses aren't making listeners work that hard with their latest effort, The Real Ramona. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Kristin Hersh's new tunes still lack 4/4 time and anticipated melodies, but when compared to earlier albums, the new stuff's downright breezy.
"I have to say I like performing the new songs better," admits guitarist- vocalist Tanya Donelly somewhat guiltily in a recent telephone interview. "I always felt very talented just being able to play the other songs. But this album feels better live. It's less like math and more like rock 'n' roll."
The relatively straightforward style of much of The Real Ramona (which, by the way, takes its title from an old postcard that drummer David Narcizo picked up at a Newport, Rhode Island, thrift store) is the result of several shake-ups the Muses have experienced lately. For starters, there's the departure of bassist Leslie Langston, who's currently working on a solo album and a collaboration with British gloomsters Wolfgang Press. Langston's replacement Fred Abong, a vet of several Rhode Island hard-core combos, doesn't follow in her skewed, free-form style.
"Leslie's playing was very different, very melodic," notes Donelly. "She'd sort of solo throughout the songs. But Fred's playing is rhythmic--almost funky."
A new producer is equally responsible for the Throwing Muses' recent sonic overhaul. The production on the Muses' last two records was handled by Boston band guru Gary Smith, whose eccentric methods included having Donelly use as many as a dozen different guitars in the recording of one song. Ramona producer Dennis Herring, on the other hand, had a more naturalistic approach. "Everything I played, I played through one amp with one guitar," explains Donelly. "I even got to use my own guitar."
The Muses followed the Hollywood-based Herring to California to record Ramona, which marked the first time the band has ventured outside its Boston home base to make an album. During the four months it took to finish the disc, the group stayed in a sprawling L.A. apartment complex situated directly above Universal Studios. "We heard explosions and car crashes every day," notes Donelly. Even more local color was provided courtesy of the complex's resident heavy-metal band, the members of which threw a pool party replete with Playboy models during the Muses' stay.
Maybe the Muses soaked up a little too much of the sunny, laid-back L.A. atmosphere. The Real Ramona lacks some of the bare-knuckled tension of earlier efforts. The manic highs of past numbers like "Alive" are missed here. Fortunately, there is power in some of the quieter moments. The airy lullaby "Dylan," which Hersh wrote for her five-year-old son, is especially moving in the context of the custody battle she's currently waging against the child's father.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The Muses' more muted performance here--along with their newfound accessibility--is bound to alienate some old-core fans. Donelly, however, refuses to accept this. "Our style has changed a lot in the last two years, but those changes have invigorated us in a way," she insists. "I think even our old fans can appreciate that."
Throwing Muses will perform at Chuy's on Wednesday, May 29. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.
"It's less like math and more like rock 'n' roll."
The Real Ramona lacks the bare-knuckled tension of earlier efforts.