Throwing Muses used to be an easy band to loathe. Chief Muse Kristin Hersh wrote wildly inconsistent songs and sang them with the vocal equivalent of buckshot on broken glass. Rock critics from the indie underground drooled ecstatically over the Muses in part because the noise Hersh made was original. That Throwing Muses, based in Boston, was the first American act signed to Britain's exotic 4AD label also added to the band's cool quotient.
TM went on to release a slew of discs throughout the Eighties, all of them quirky in the unattractive sense of the word. Roster realignments eventually flared, with Hersh's stepsister, Tanya Donnelly, bolting for a brief fling with the Breeders before moving on to form Belly. Hersh at one point put out her own solo disc with few ripples of interest in return.
Hersh and drummer David Narcizo have since re-formed the Muses with bassist Bernard Georges, resulting in the band's most potent recording to date. University finds Hersh trading her sophomoric, self-absorbed approach for an introspective maturity that pulls twice as strong. Describing herself as "all fathers' daughter" on the CD's best song, "Start," Hersh sings, "I'm sorry I can't talk, I can't think under pressure." But by the next verse, she's saying quite a lot, most of it framed in Freudian references: "I climb you as I grow older, by 50 I'll ride on your shoulder. . . . I'll walk him back home, and I'll keep him in bed, I'll walk out the door and I'll live there instead. . . . I start at his knees and I'll end in his dreams."
Hersh carries her poetics atop aggressive, toppling tempos, a technique not uncommon to previous Musings. But on University, the songwriter adds wonderful melodic twists to help keep things moving. To wit: the pure-pop succession of guitar chords at the end of "Hazing"; the sturdy single guitar notes bracing "Shimmer"; and the complex vocal harmonies wafting above "Crabtown," an ethereal song riding some of the biggest hooks of Hersh's career.
It's taken a while for Throwing Muses to escape the ghetto of hip but irrelevant rock acts. Hersh sounds like she's not only survived, but grown stronger. University makes the band's lesser works in the past worth the wait.--
The Jerky Boys: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Judging by the bad word of mouth already greeting this celluloid turd, the Jerky Boys have about as much chance of making another movie as the Menendez brothers have of killing their dad again. Yet there is at least one redeeming element to this soundtrack: It manages to do what contemporary radio formats can't seem to do--let rap, grunge and metal co-exist under one roof. L7 turns in an enraged reread of Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone," and Coolio's "Dial a Jam" neatly samples Skyy's "Call Me." Making a smooth transition from one of the handful of Jerky comedy routines on the album, Collective Soul's recent hit "Gel" starts off sounding like it's being filtered through a bad Radio Shack answering machine.
Other pluses include "2,000 Light Years Away," a preplatinum Green Day cut, Superchunk's ultrapoppy "Shallow End," and Tom Jones' horn-peppered cover of "Are You Gonna Go My Way," with Lenny Kravitz himself producing. Fans of the Jerkys will note that the "exclusive movie dialogue" inclusions are merely "reenactments" of their old, by-now-played-to-death bits. "(You Got Me) Sick As a Dog" takes the JBs' "Fava Bean" routine and sets it to a pedestrian heavy-metal track. The conclusion? The Jerky Boys should be heard and not seen.--
Wild Seed--Wild Flower
When rap activist act Arrested Development began struggling with internal conflicts, a few of the group members hit the road and went on to better things. One of the more successful of the bunch is Dionne Farris, whose lovely croon helped catapult Arrested Development's single "Tennessee" to a Grammy. Now Farris has wheeled her solo self into the spotlight with a diverse album that--as trite as it sounds--defies categorization.
Warning, go into this with an open mind. It's still Farris' powerful pipes that hook the listener, but don't expect to hear AD's trademark happy hip-hop. In fact, she steers far away from that genre, delving into rock, soul, funk, blues, jazz and gospel.
The singer (who also co-produced the album) spreads her wings with a moving, bluesy cover of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's classic "Blackbird." On "Food for Thought," Farris flexes her vocal muscles, swinging from a distinctive blues feel to a guttural gospel sound. For the rock 'n' roll fans, Dionne offers the blistering "Passion," and on the a cappella "Human," Farris sings that before she is short, young, African, a woman, etc., she is human. A refreshing thought in a splintered world. If Farris were to retire from show business tomorrow, with Wild Seed she would have created something frighteningly close to a masterpiece.--
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