Mandatory Music: you must count backwards while reading this post. Go on, press the button.
22 years ago today, the Throwing Muses released The Real Ramona. This album was their poppiest and most accessible, and also the last one with Tanya Donnelly before she left to form Belly. (Which, whatever, I was never a Donnelly girl. I’m all about Kristin Hersh.)
I don’t really know how to talk about this album. Like the first three Throwing Muses albums, it fed my soul and made my heart pound with joy. It still does. I like how it starts off with a bang, with “Counting Backwards.” I love the rising exhilarated vocal just after the first verse in “Golden Thing.” I like the vocals synchronized with the guitar on “Not Too Soon.” I like how “Say Goodbye” on The Real Ramona incorporates the “Say Goodbye” snippet from Hunkpapa, and I like the lines “I bought this pocketknife for you, Don’t you use it?/I bought this ball and chain for you, Don’t you wear it?” I love the percussive force of “Ellen West” and “Hook in Her Head.” I can say these things but they don’t come close to expressing the magic of The Real Ramona. So let’s see what All Music Guide has to say:
The Real Ramona marked the perfect balance of Throwing Muses’ angular songwriting and latent pop tendencies. Where Hunkpapa tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to mix these elements, this album succeeds with surreal pop songs like “Counting Backwards” and “Red Shoes.” They’re catchy and riveting, clearly linked to the band’s early material yet more focused and accessible. “Graffiti” and “Two-Step” are two of Kristin Hersh’s most appealing pop snippets, but dark, uncompromising tracks like “Say Goodbye,” “Ellen West,” and “Hook in Her Head” reaffirm that she can still write troubling, fascinating songs like nobody else.
Well, that’s a start. What else do we have? The BBC music review gets closer to describing what makes this band and this album so thrilling and addictive.
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… 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”…
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.
Here’s the full listing of all 12 songs, courtesy of Spotify.
- “Speed and Sleep:” My Interview With Kristin Hersh (sleephelpdesk.wordpress.com)
- Review of Kristen Hersh’s Memoir Rat Girl (NYT Book Review)