Two decades of indie-pop later, it still sounds arresting.
Andrzej Lukowski 2010-07-26
If Throwing Muses’ lengthy recording career is one with many peaks and few troughs, few would argue that their golden age was the Tanya Donelly years, her piercing, witchy vocals a perfectly eerie counterpoint to the feral roar and harsh, jagged guitars of her step-sister (and chief muse) Kristin Hersh.
And of those Donelly-era records, the two key ones are those that bookend her tenure with the band. The boiling rage, howled trauma and convention-blind song structures of 1986’s debut Untitled still make for one of the most chokingly intense albums ever made. And then five years later we have The Real Ramona. It is not a harrowing emotional touchstone. It is, simply, a record made up of really catchy, really well-crafted indie-pop songs, not a million miles away from the type of stuff their chums (and labelmates) the Pixies were throwing out at the time. From The Smiths’ debut to Nirvana’s Nevermind, The Strokes’ Is This It and Arcade Fire’s Funeral, alt-rock always needs catchy records to rally around if it is to remain vibrant; The Real Ramona glows with vitality.
That’s maybe not something you could tell from Hersh’s lyrics, which are abstract as ever, but the moment the rinky-dink drums and stop-start rhythm of opener Counting Backwards lollop over the horizon like a friendly hound, you know this going to be fun. Sure, the grit and weirdness are still here, but they’ve taken on new forms, the wiggier moments transmuted into pretty, semi-abstract fragments like Him Dancing, Red Shoes, Graffiti and Dylan, the hammered guitars and animal snarls shaped into the grungy, anthemic hooks of Golden Thing, Ellen West and Say Goodbye. Donelly, meanwhile, plays a blinder – her lissom Not Too Soon is probably the catchiest tune she ever wrote, which is impressive given that the chorus is essentially her clearing her throat.
The Real Ramona was written by a bunch of talented weirdoes who’d spent the best part of the last decade screaming at people over demented time signatures. So yes, they wrote album of great pop songs, but when they did so they no way surrendered their intrinsic otherness – two decades of indie-pop later, it still sounds arresting.