#22 — Throwing Muses, University
Throwing Muses took a complicated path to University, their sixth studio album. Though this was their second release without departed member Tanya Donelly, by then landing on the cover of Rolling Stone with her band Belly, most of the reviews remained preoccupied with her absence. This album also sat on the shelf for over a year, as Sire Records, eternally perplexed about how to turn this critically-acclaimed band into a commercial success, decided it would fare better if it arrived after the solo album lead singer and chief creative force Kristin Hersh recorded in close chronological proximity to University. They might not have been wrong. That solo release outsold all of the prior Throwing Muses records. That mini-breakthrough combined with the notion that the success of bands like Belly and the Breeders had helped created a modern rock radio niche for Throwing Muses led to high expectations that University was going to be a game-changer.
It wasn’t. It sure charged out of the gate strong, though, releasing “Bright Yellow Gun” as the lead single. Tight, insinuating, hooky, and about as direct as anything Throwing Muses had ever delivered (“I have no secrets, I have no lies/ I have nothing to offer/ But the middle of the night”), the track roars like a comet. And yet, it didn’t register the way the label had hoped, actually charting lower than the band’s previous singles that landed on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. The band’s fate was probably all but sealed as soon as the single started its descent. Sire dropped them, making University the group’s last album for the label.
At least it wasn’t all that bad of a way to go out. Besides “Bright Yellow Sun,” it has the pretty drone of “Start,” the pointed “Shimmer,” and the swirlingly melodic “That’s All You Wanted.” There’s also a tendency for songs to get locked into a certain groove and find themselves unable to escape it, like a leave caught in an eddy. Sometimes that reaches a point of such churning repetition that a song starts to feel only half-formed, like an inkling that was never really developed but the band went ahead and recorded it anyway (“No Way in Hell” comes to mind). That’s not a new flaw on University. It runs through the band’s whole discography, arguably an inevitable consequence of songwriting that’s done by feel as much as by craft. For some, that’s a reasonable exchange for the pleasures of Hersh’s sonic exploration. I’m not so sure.
Throwing Muses alluded to their newly unmoored state with the title of their next album, 1997’s Limbo. They formally disbanded after the tour to support that record, though the inevitable reunion took place, with new albums released under the Throwing Muses name in 2003 and 2014.
All had released a lot of albums by 1995. Formed by the remaining members of the Descendents after lead singer Milo Aukerman left the group to pursue advanced studies in biochemistry, the punk group churned out music at a steady clip, releasing an album per year from 1988 to 1993, and one additional live album in the mix to boot. Pummel arrived after an atypical gap year. It also signaled the band’s newfound willingness to reach for greater heights, perhaps inspired by seeing Green Day sell a shit-ton (roughly) with their major label debut, Dookie. All signed with Interscope for Pummel. It didn’t go all that well. Despite having a album stocked with material right in line with the expected All sound (and not that far from the material that helped Green Day break through), the label didn’t have a clear sense as to how to market the record. Pummel wound up as both All’s major label debut and their last such effort. They went over to Brett Gurewitz’s Epitaph Records for their next two studio releases. Though they’ve never formally broken up and have continued to play live on occasion, the band hasn’t released a new album since 2000.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP