The legendary band's third transitional album is a mixed bag...
Dennis O'Dell 2007
Following the one-two punch of the harder-edged Throwing Muses and House Tornado, Hunkpapa was the work of a band in a time of re-appraisal and change. The twin songwriting team of half-sisters Tanya Donelly and Kirstin Hersh had settled in to their respective roles. While Donelly presented the sweeter, more melodic and vulnerable side to the foursome, Hersh used her bi-polarity to mine a series of intense and visceral rides through her own psyche.
On Hunkpapa the spoils were divided as before, with Hersh taking the lion’s share of credits. But this time her efforts were tempered with a commerciality that had previously been the domain of Donelly. A lot of this comes down to Gary Smith’s rather over-lush production. While taking off a lot of the edge, it brings Hersh’s “Dizzy” to life and can’t even begin to dull coruscating fare like her tale of a prostitute, “Bea”.
But what really keeps Hunkpapa in the realm of greatness is the band’s ability to keep up with Hersh’s idiosyncratic muse. Especially of note is drummer Dave Narcizo whose elasticity makes these angular and punchy slices of college rock come to life.
The album does contain a couple of clunkers in “No Parachutes” and “I’m Alive”, but Donelly’s “Dragonhead” gives a good indication of her wonderful output to come. Hunkpapa is probably the band’s most flawed album, but it still contains riches worth investigating.