Release Date: Nov 11, 2013
Record label: Harper Collins
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, College Rock
Back in 1992, nobody had a more drastic freak-out over Throwing Muses becoming a trio than yours truly… save, perhaps, for those immediately involved in the band. What became apparent over the next few years, however, was that this simultaneous paring down and tightening up was also the sound of the band’s balls descending. Thud. Though never short on nerves, Throwing Muses became increasingly lean and muscled – sinewy, even – just in time to disband as a result of financial constraints in 1997.
During their lengthy career, Throwing Muses began as American college rock pioneers in the '80s and '90s, and in the 2000s and 2010s, provided a model of how critically acclaimed -- but not necessarily best-selling -- artists could thrive when the industry was in turmoil. Fed up with fickle record labels, in 2007 Kristin Hersh co-founded the Cash Music nonprofit to help musicians connect with and sell music to their fans; since then, it feels like she's been been building toward a project like the sprawling, often stunning Purgatory/Paradise, which pairs 32 songs with a book filled with illustrations, essays by Hersh, and 4AD-esque graphic design from drummer David Narcizo. In 2010, she published her memoir Rat Girl; her album Crooked from that year also featured an art book.
There’s a moment during the commentary packaged with Throwing Muses new album Purgatory/Paradise, after drummer Dave Narcizo offers up a particularly ribald interpretation of “Slippershell”, where Kristin Hersh stops and laughs away the credit: “Sure. God wrote it.” From almost anyone else, that would come off ridiculous, a megalomaniac’s humblebrag, but from Hersh it’s part of the origin story, the one that’s been repeated in everything written about Throwing Muses from the 80s onward. Hersh has always held that she’s not a songwriter so much as a woman accosted by songs; her role, she says, is more like a transcriptionist, or a vessel.
Reunions and comebacks are strange things. They can feel like cashgrabs, like new bursts of inspiration, like flat repetitions of what came before. Hearing the first album in ten years from Throwing Muses, a listener might be inclined to try and peg Purgatory/Paradise with one of those too-easy labels, especially because it feels like it’s been way longer than a decade since Kristin Hersh and company gave us new tunes.
Two years ago, Throwing Muses frontwoman Kristin Hersh told the Guardian that every time she writes a song she gets suicidal urges, which makes the band's first album in over a decade somewhat troubling. Housed in a hardback book and issued by a publisher rather than a record company, it includes photos, prose lyrics and a CD containing no less than 32 songs-cum-suicidal urges. "You can go to hell, maybe see me there," she yells in Slippershell, which most echoes the Muses of old, who emerged from Rhode Island in the late 1980s and sounded like duelling voices hurtling from an elemental storm.
It would be a polite understatement to call Throwing Muses’ activity since their latest reformation sporadic. Save for their second self-titled release in 2003, the Muses have largely been ghosts. But, while the progenitive alt rockers haven’t exactly been prolific on their most recent run, Purgatory/Paradise indicates that the band’s been plenty busy and 32 years and nine studio albums later — they aren’t short on new ideas, either Reunions are typically soiled by half-hearted retreads of old formulas, but singer/guitarist Kristin Hersh, drummer David Narcizo, and bassist Bernard Georges still display a willingness to reach beyond their borders.
Talking to the Globe last year, Kristin Hersh made a prediction for what the next Throwing Muses album would be like. “You could call it a masterpiece, but you could also call it long-winded,” she said. “But it’s the record we’re allowed to die after making.” The band’s frontwoman was right on both accounts. “Purgatory/Paradise” is the Rhode Island-bred band’s first new album in a decade, and it’s exactly what you want and expect from Throwing Muses at this point: gloriously jagged and ramshackle and at the mercy of Hersh’s vision.
Full disclosure is the plan on Throwing Muses’ first album since 2003: “Purgatory Paradise,” a 32-song album released, in its deluxe version, with a 64-page hardcover book from HarperCollins. Kristin Hersh, the band’s songwriter, singer and guitarist, impressionistically details the makings of her terse, splintered songs, many of them just over a minute each but still eventful, with titles and tunes reappearing like multiple episodes. Some of the music is unplugged but scrappy, with shifting meters and the grit in Ms.