Kristin Hersh - Strange Angels

AAARGH!!! A SECOND DOSE OF shrieky solo mumrock from the ex-Throwing Muses songstress whose favoured vocal style still sounds like the aural equivalent of someone gargling mouthwash while performing particularly complex vocal scales.

Fun is quite clearly off the menu. Instead we get Kristin - accompanied by the lone twang of an acoustic guitar - mulling over the complexities of life amidst a barrage of meaning-riddled metaphors. Take it as read, then, that the slow-boiling strains of 'Cold Water Coming' is less about troubles with the boiler than the drug addiction of a friend; 'Stained' refers not to drink spillage following a night's carousing but to the relentless passage of time; and 'Baseball Field' is not about the day Kristin scored a home run at the high school sports day.

Rather, we are in that strangest of environments: the sanitised world of the 'adult' relationship; where hate mail still has the correct postcode on it and pained silences over tea and toast become the stuff of cringingly over-earnest lyrics. Think the sound of singer-songwriter angst minus all the fire'n'brimstone and replaced by the woolly philosophy of those hippy-schtick salespeople you find in New Age shops the globe over, eager to regale you with tales of how spiritual fulfilment is impossible without a major investment in healing crystals.

Highs as there are, then, come in the form of lows. The plaintive 'Pale' comes with the couplet, "You better bring your fork and knife/'Til we see eye to eye" (best not ask) while the delightfully titled 'Gut Pageant' manages to tangle some pleasant harmonising around screwball lyrics such as, "That fine fever brought us here... lambasted eyeballs" in a manner which suggests Kristin likes keeping us at a safe distance.

Let us not, however, be blinded by such daring forays into stream-of-consciousness lyricism. This is, after all, Kristin Hersh. The difficulty comes with the fact that whereas on 1994's 'Hips And Makers' such bittersweet laments were occasionally wrapped up in a glorious rush of guitars, here they're so exposed they could almost be charged with public indecency. Plus, in a straight-laced indie-universe where the sublimely downbeat strumming of Beth Orton marks the boundaries for singer-songwriter geekiness, Kristin appears quaintly outdated. And with pop's attention span decreasing by the second, the chances of anyone but the faithful finding their way to this album seems highly improbable.

"I asked him why the grass is blue and stray boys don't go home... why 4am's so screwy," she gushes on 'Gut Pageant', eyes the size of saucers, eternally lost in the midnight revelations of a teenage slumber-party.

Not for the uninitiated.


Paul Moody