Throwing Muses, “Green” (Throwing Muses, 1986; technically taken from In a Doghouse)
Throwing Muses’ first self-titled album is lots of people’s favorite, with good reason. I can’t exactly differ. I could write fifteen inadvisable posts about “Call Me.” “Hate My Way” becomes even more fascinating with the explanation in Rat Girl. I’ve already mentioned “Soul Soldier” and am surprised I haven’t mentioned “Vicky’s Box.” But I haven’t had a Tanya song on here, and “Green” is my favorite of the Muses tracks (close behind “Not Too Soon,” which almost doesn’t count because it’s miles away from almost anything the band’s done except for demos.)
This is a Tanya Donelly song, so it’s thick with allegory; it’s an early Tanya Donelly song, so the allegory’s not too difficult to unravel. “He built a city in my head, then there were candles / and a phoenix burnt my bed,” the song begins, and that’s not difficult on its own. That’s also the extent of it; Donelly knows that’s the extent of it, because the next line is “these are sub-words, these are air.” (New blog title.)
“Green” works for a few reasons. It perfectly grafts jitters — the tiptoe at the start, the clicking percussion and three-note guitar part that’s as if Tanya wrote sheet music for trying to drive out of a rut — to a swooning chorus and frame. That’s generally how swooning works anyway (even Tanya’s own “Swoon” deflates after its glorious first verse) Meanwhile, Leslie Langston’s bass line seems as if it wandered in from another song entirely, one without any of this nonsense.
The lyrics work, completely. Lots of “Green” is a long process of figuring themselves out, trying to piece together what happened when with which connotations. Look at the number of lines that go “now there are words in my head,” “what is this,” “what’s that beyond the floor.” There are lines you just don’t say, ever, namely ”I love your face like God.” There are lines that explain or complicate the metaphors. There are lines that are just great: “You kneel in my ashes, kneading them.”
More than any of this, though, the delivery works. Half of “Green” is delivered in a woozy mushmouth, as if dazed or hungover (check out “I shouldn’t be smoking this last cigarette…”). Parts are practically barked - “in one house, in one place…” Parts, on the chorus, go fluttery and high without warning, coquettish then sullen; one part, on the bridge, is sung so loud it’s as if they got away from Donelly mid-line. David Narcizo’s drum part does the same.
Incidentally, Tanya must’ve been in her teens when she wrote “Green.” This goes for much of Throwing Muses and a surprising amount of the Muses’ later material; it’s meant not as a qualifier but a bonus.
What a glorious review of one of my favourite ever songs.