Picks and Pans Review: Hunkpapa

updated 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Throwing Muses

A picture of Throwing Muses onstage would show a pretty blond with dangling earrings and an acoustic guitar standing before two equally attractive women with electric guitars and a cute young male on drums. An untutored listener would expect this team to produce the same kind of throwaway pop as the Bangles or the Go-Gos. Forget it. No matter how they look, Throwing Muses is not a girl group; it's a rock band capable of mustering a mix of aggression, self-assurance and complexity that transcends all gender clichés. The first three albums by the Boston and Rhode Island-based quartet erected a wall of electrified music so dense and impenetrable that the record-buying masses couldn't—or didn't want to—penetrate it. With Hunkpapa (the title was taken from the Sioux tribe Sitting Bull belonged to), the Muses seem intent on tearing down some barriers by simplifying their songs while keeping their innate toughness. With a strong mid-to-high range voice, lead singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh delivers lyrics that hint at experiences that have made her wise beyond her 22 years. Images from a brain tumor operation she underwent last year add a disturbing note of physical pain to several songs.

Hersh's stint as a psychology student, or perhaps her recent task of raising a toddler, give her an unpredictably mature perspective on human nature. "Dizzy," the Muses' first song with pop potential, shows her talent for writing about the power plays, mistrust and passion between the sexes. The song describes a Comanche woman who gives in to seduction by a white drifter: "Black as oil, his hair shone/Lily-white, his skin glistened/Restless, as the reed between his lips blew."

Some Hunkpapa songs are tedious, because of haphazard lyrics or drifting guitars that never find a melody. But usually, when Throwing Muses wrestles with the rock music demons, the tussle creates provocative sounds. (Sire)

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