I got into the Throwing Muses because I was sweet on a girl in high school who was a fan of the band. Though it turned out her fandom began and ended with a copy of Hunkpapa she picked up on the recommendation of some music rag, my interest in the band managed to outlive both this revelation and the crush that originally inspired it.
The Muses (along with King Missile, the Darling Buds, Shonen Knife, and Carter USM) became part of the pantheon of outlier acts I remained devoted to even during the depths of my hardcore punk phase. The mix of surreal lyrics, creepy guitar pop, and female vocalists was compelling enough to stifle any misgivings about “excess artiness.”
I stayed faithful up until my late 1991 break-up with an art student who was also a fan of the band, and thus poisoned that well by unfortunate association. I removed their tapes from my library, gave my copy of the House Tornado CD to my pal Leech, and did my best to put them out of my mind entirely.
That willful suppression managed to stay in place until the beginning of 1993, when Maura and I were visiting one of her friends who worked at a hip boutique in Harvard Square. A new-yet-somehow-familiar song started playing on the store’s PA system. I mentioned how it reminded me a little of the Throwing Muses and Maura’s friend informed me that it was a new act named “Bellystar or something” fronted by “that other blonde girl” who was in the band.
Considering “that other blonde girl” was Tanya Donelly — the person responsible for several of my favorite Throwing Muses tracks — my curiosity was piqued enough form me to run around the corner and pick up a cassette copy of Belly’s debut album Star at Newbury Comics.
It did not disappoint in the slightest. Not only was it free of the ugly memories that had soured me on the Muses, but it channeled their esoteric weirdness into hauntingly ethereal directions. It wasn’t so much “dream pop” as “fever dream pop,” a honey-coated heart of darkness that still gives me gooseflesh a quarter century and countless plays later. That type of dichotomy isn’t uncommon in pop music, but it’s rare to find it so free of affectation as comes across in Belly’s material.
The album became the unofficial soundtrack for the first half of 1993, and certain stretches of the years following. I will forever associate “Full Moon, Empty Heart” with waiting for a bus at Copley Square and fiddling with the purple John Lennon glasses I wore to deal with the light sensitivity I got after switching to contact lenses for a year. I can’t listen to “Stay” without remembering a teary-eyed Maura asking me to turn it off after one of her pet bunnies passed away.
No other album is as intimately wrapped up in so many moments of my life as Star is, masking it an easy inclusion on the “essentials list.” Though it got only a token import vinyl release in 1993, I managed to snag a slightly more affordable double LP reissue (on “marbled white vinyl” because it’s all about the music, man). It’s a bit of a hassle to get up and flip sides or switch records after every two songs, but one I’ll bear for this particular slice of melancholy magic.