Back with their tenth studio album after a seven year hiatus, Boston‘s Throwing Muses have returned with Sun Racket, a record that could only be them from the first note, such is the identity that they have forged for themselves in a career now, gulp, into its fifth decade.
The band have re-appeared as the same trio who made 2013’s Purgatory / Paradise – namely the ever-fabulous guitarist / vocalist / all-round artistic director Kristin Hersh (who has around the same amount of solo material out there as her band’s output), drummer David Narcizo and bassist Bernard Georges (who also appeared alongside Hersh in the perhaps slightly overlooked 50 Foot Wave back in the olden days (well, the mid-noughties).
Opener ‘Dark Blue’ is one of three tracks that have been shared on those digital streaming things in advance of the album’s release, and it’s crunching guitars and oblique lyrics give fair warning of what can be expected from the record (sample lyric: “Coming down sleeping in Reykjavík / I’m dreaming about Arabella Station / And you can shout about what coming down I cried about: a freak suspended animation“).
Next track ‘Bywater’ is a much gentler affair though, Hersh showing that the trademark voice can be tender as well as utterly powerful, the words this time referencing Freddie Mercury’s goldfish (yes really) rather than the Burton Albion goalkeeper Stephen Bywater, who most Muses (never forget the plural there) fans probably assumed the song would be about.
‘Bo Diddley Bridge’ is wonderful, an insistent, distorted Hersh guitar riff running though the song, which then goes off at a tangent to a slow piano-led section where the lyrics “The bridge collapsing / The water’s winning / Who’s swimming / (Is It Us?)” just seem so perfect. The wonderfully titled ‘Milk At McDonalds’ meanwhile has the Hersh observing that “I don’t regret a single drop of alcohol” in a song full of startling candour.
Hersh’s lyrics are one of the main aspects that have always set the band apart and it’s so refreshing to see an artist not treading the familiar ground, avoiding cliche and putting together a set of words that could actually be published in its own right and still be of great value.
There’s a lot of the sweeter side of Throwing Muses on this album, ‘Upstairs Dan’ being one example where the music is closer to dreampop than the fury of something like ‘Firepile’ from the band’s 90s commercial high water mark (that one even almost made the Top 40, them was the days, eh kids?).
‘Frosting’ is another one of those pre-album digital offerings and is a brooding slow-burner, where the vocals are a lot more raw – it’s not an obviously catchy song to share but repeated plays lodge it in the head, it’s unrelenting, circular bass underpinning a much wilder song than others on the record.
A lot of people will be thrilled to see a new Throwing Muses appearing in 2020, many of them fans from back in the 4AD days of the 80s and 90s. Those people will love this record. It might not be album to win the band a new generation of fans but it sounds for all the world that they have made an album that they desperately wanted to make. And that’s always a powerful thing.
Sun Racket was released by Fire Records on 4th September 2020.