Heaven on the ground
Rhode Island band Throwing Muses didn't officially break up until last April, but their relevance was eclipsed as early as the 1994 release of leader Kristin Hersh's successful solo record Hips & Makers. Now that the deck is clear for a true Hersh solo career, the haunting, hollow sound she cultivated on that first CD has given way to the more earthy feeling of her second, Strange Angels.
Warm, rich acoustic guitar is the order of the day here, occasionally supplemented with soft bits of cello, piano, and percussion. Hersh plays everything on the record herself and creates a variety of pristine settings to accompany her minimalist lyrics and cooing melodies. Hersh encourages the listener to fill in the blanks, and the 15 songs on "Strange Angels" are like psychological word games where there may be no right answers beyond how one interprets the imagery that's strung together.
But she certainly pops off some great lines in the little she does say. In "Like You" she politely rails: "Excuse me, a doormat is nice honest work/Only the bored and the wicked rich don't know that." On "Aching For You" she proclaims: "Love is a needle, goes all the way down/I'm always surprised/So shoot me a roll of your best paradise /It's so pretty I just want to die."
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The best tracks on the record represent the classic Hersh gift for lovely, brutal statements. In "Gut Pageant" she sings, "When we kiss the dirt, the orchids laugh," followed by a chorus of "What a gut pageant, meat for the flowers." On "Stained" she says cheerfully, "I'm stained, never change" and "Use me I get stronger, I get weaker when you treat me like a queen." However, she overreaches her artistic grasp a bit with lines like "When he drools, it's like he's spitting jewels" and "There are fishes that are stronger than my legs"--obtuse verse that sounds great but doesn't quite mean anything.
The record's main weakness, however, is that the songs all start to sound somewhat the same after a while, despite Hersh's interesting guitar work and the surreal lyrics. Though she conveys a sense of urgency on many cuts, she never really lets it rip, and the abstract nature of some of the material seems better suited to a band setting.
But Hersh understands that not everyone will get her drift, as the album's closing lines could speak to the war on mediocrity she has always waged and her willingness to be a martyr for being different. "Acting this way is a craft," she sings. "I'll shut up soon and then we'll go home/Covered in band aids and casts."