Throwing Muses made everything better. Their music, all awkward patterns, assumed a disordered beauty once you fully immersed yourself in their world, an introverted and often surreal place full of drama, horror, beauty, and wonder. I lived there quite a lot during my years at school. What set them apart from other bands during an era when alternative rock was flourishing (R.E.M./Nirvana/Smashing Pumpkins) was that the band had no just one but two genuinely brilliant artists in the line-up: Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donnelly. Both excellent songwriters and guitarists, they made Throwing Muses a ferociously exciting prospect. As far as I’m concerned, they’re every bit as iconic and Morrissey and Marr, Lennon and McCartney, Annie and Richard X. For years the band released music and toured. If 1989’s Hunkpapa sounded like a band on the verge of breaking through into the mainstream, then The Real Ramona was that promise fulfilled. It’s their Mount Everest. No album they recorded before or since could ever be as perfect. Whenever I think of my favourite 90s albums, The Real Ramona always looms large in mind. This album meant everything. It was my shield against the world, a barrier between me and mediocrity. If I had this in my ears, I couldn’t hear the fighting downstairs, or the screaming outside.
The Real Ramona is as ‘pop’ as this band would get and they did it whilst retaining their glorious oddness. Whisper it, these songs would work on a dancefloor. You can dance to most songs on The Real Ramona. The album opener, Counting Backwards, announces itself with an insistent drumbeat and Kristen Hersh’s lyrics. By the end of the song, you know this album is going to be something special. I certainly did. David Narcizo’s drumming work really stands out on The Real Ramona. Creative and exciting, he skilfully fills the places in-between spaces. Sometimes it sounds vaguely jazzy, other times his drumming rivals Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney) for sheer power. Equally danceable is Him Dancing. If a song has the word ‘dance’ in the title, it better make people dance. Bowie did this and it worked. Luckily, Him Dancing keeps true to this mantra. The best song on the album is the Tanya Donnelly penned Not Too Soon. Actually, it’s probably my favourite Throwing Muses song. How do I describe it? It’s the only pop song in history where the chorus sounds like an exorcism. Other songs on the album (Red Shoes, Golden Thing, Dylan) are similarly galvanizing, even (goodness!) groovy.
To understand this album’s importance for me is to consider that this band made weirdo music for weirdo people. Emotionally, I embraced this album. Did I understand what the words meant? Not always. But it didn’t matter. Everything came together into a perfect whole that I could sing the words and feel they were vital and important.
The Real Ramona is still that album to me. I don’t think there will ever be a time that I tire of it, leave it in the past. On every new iPod it lives. When I bought my snazzy new Burger Buddy cassette player, one of the first albums I had to get on tape was The Real Ramona.
It’s part of me, and I couldn’t be without it. Real life always sounds better with The Real Ramona.