David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 230: Throwing Muses (Hook In Her Head)

February 28, 2023

A great pop album always has one song that doesn't seem to quite fit in with the rest, not simply musically or lyrically, but even just conceptually. Often those songs are, in essence, jam sessions, perhaps six minutes or longer, often predominated by extended guitar or piano riffs, the occasional guest saxophonist inserting himself, while the singer takes a break.

Even though Throwing Muses never escaped relative obscurity to make it big in pop, that was never the fault of their albums. The Real Ramona is generally revered as their masterpiece, with both Kristin Hersh ("Golden Thing" or "Counting Backwards") and Tanya Donelly ("Honeychain" or "Not Too Soon") providing hook-filled songs that AM/FM radio couldn't take the time to explore. It's probably the reason that so many of these hooks didn't produce any bites that the album's gritty jam session, "Hook In Her Head," defines the album best.

"Hook In Her Head" is both as beautiful and as disturbing as its title. The hook can represent the tune a listener can't get rid of, the tune a creative artist can't quite articulate, the connection we can't escape, as well as the jarring mechanism jerking us to some place we don't want to be. Musically, the song hooks us in multiple ways, whether through the first third presenting a riff as artistically constructed as anything on the pop charts; then through the middle section, riff and line starting to pull us from the water, our gills gasping; finishing with the final section of distorted feedback, shredded guitar (courtesy of Tanya Donelly), and a rhythm section that might explode in our ears. Through that last section is some recorded voice like a transistor radio in the background. For six and a half minutes, the Muses have hooked and dragged us until all of us collapse exhausted.

Lyrically, Hirsch's words drift all over the place: "Certain things I love," she announces at the beginning, "spend my time/I guess I'll have to unhook those hooks." When she gets to the middle section and the hook starts to dig in deeper, the words tear deeper: "rip it  up/live it down/make it big/shake it off/take him off." As the band transitions to the musical attack in the final third, destruction comes down to a bottle "slipped between her fingers and slid along the aisle," our narrator too "bone tired" to choose a gun as a man might.

Pretty dark stuff. And when you hear any of it, you will not easily get it out of your head. The link below is to a live version, as, amazingly, live versions are all I can find online. Not necessarily a bad thing, but live the distinctions between the three sections are not quite as defined.

In the end, what is the hook in your head?

Hirsch's plaintive "I'm so bone tired"?

Or perhaps the repeated, "I watch the snow make slow time"?

Or David Narcizo, doing his best Mick Fleetwood impersonation, drumming as if his kit needs some kind of release?

Or Fred Abong's pulsating bass?

Or Donelly's shredding guitar, feedback bleeding into our ears?

Good luck shaking it off. Taylor, I got music in my head that's telling me "it's gonna be alright."

Throwing Muses. "Hook In Her Head." The Real Ramona. 4AD, 1990. Link to live performance here.

Day 229: America "A Horse With No Name"

Day 231: The Boomtown Rats "Here's A Postcard"

See complete list here.