IN THROWING MUSES, young wicca-punk Kristin Hersh roughed up her guitar and emoted wrist-cutting screeds at a time when the act of shouting signifiers like "water," "skin," and "blood" was enough to convince us grrrls we had arrived. Now, thanks to her pioneer pluck, the genderfuck frontier is full of tough competition. With smarties like Björk, Polly Jean Harvey, and folkie Beth Orton honing in her old territory, how does Hersh stay now? Here's how: The cult-icon mother-of-three gambles on growing up, courts lyrical clarity, and admits to a newfound personal stability.
Hersh always strategically skewed her down-to-earth-mama candor with enough token hysteria to warrant a madwoman image--cutting domesticity with sexual restlessness, freedom with shame. And her target audience has always eaten this stuff up. Lately, however, the edgy allure of that pose is being eclipsed by the healthy reliability of Hersh's releases: Imagine a spiritually centered Sylvia Plath penning Ariel poems at age 90, surrounded by blithely rambunctious grandchildren.
Accordingly, Angels' standout track, the clever "Some Catch Flies," is a love prayer delivered in the shrine of doubt. Hersh, who is married, sings, "And when he drools/It's like he's spitting jewels." Later she rhapsodizes, "He's my gold/We'll dangle till we're old," and winds up in the redemptive light of "a sideways look," which she compares to "a lighter in the dark." Vamping, oompah-style keys carnivalize a tender final chorus of "I do love/I do love you." Later, in the album's best parenthood song, "Rock Candy Brains," Hersh's day-terror of "little sneakers" going "up in flames" settles into a meditation on dreaming children "after lights out." While ever the skeptic, Hersh braves sweetness, using spare arpeggio arrangements to map out a more pleasing kind of boutique punk--with a guitar girding the vocal melodies rather than buffeting them.
Like 1997's sleeper gem, Loneliest in the Morning, by Eric's Trip bassist (and mother of two) Julie Doiron, Strange Angels breathes art and love into confident, pro-creative pop structures that Nirvana or Weezer would envy. Next step? Hip mama Hersh amps up her epiphanies and the cradle rocks harder than ever before.
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