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Throwing Muses have long given up any attempt to ‘play the game’. Bruised and battered from their dealings with the music industry over the years, their new LP, ‘Purgatory/Paradise’ – their first in a decade – was entirely listener funded with no record company support.

The irony is that, despite working outside the system, the Muses could have presented ‘P/P’ as a conventional album – had they chosen to. And it almost certainly would have been hailed as a comeback record to enhance their legendary status.

But ‘P/P’ makes no concessions whatsoever to convention – or commerce. It isn’t just any old 11 or 12 track album – it’s a 32 track behemoth. And more than that, it’s not just a 32 track album – it’s a book and a record.

In fact, to mess further with conventions, there aren’t even 32 different songs on the record. Rather there are 25 with 7 of these songs split in two and planted at different locations throughout the album. (It’s the only record that I’ve ever listened to in alphabetical order!)

All this may seem self indulgent to some but the Muses are clear that they are no longer interested in the notion of mass acceptance (if they ever were). Consequently and unashamedly ‘P/P’ is aimed fairly and squarely at the Muses core support for whom ‘P/P’ is a godsend.

There’s no doubt that its length does make ‘P/P’ something of a challenge. But there’s a flip side to that – it is also a seemingly never ending treasure trove of delights which is not actually musically difficult in any way. Sonically, in fact,  ‘P/P’ seems a logical progression from 1996’s accessible ‘Limbo’ and largely (but not completely) by-passes the ferocious elements of the last LP – 2003’s ‘Throwing Muses’.

It’s the most organic sounding Muses record to date, awash with acoustic guitars and pianos. Of course neither are strangers to past Muses records but they’ve never been used to this extent before. Indeed I’d suggest that some of the songs are closer to Kristin’s solo material than any previous Muses record.

Some of the longer songs are the obvious ‘singles’. ‘Sunray Venus’ is just fabulous – the Muses in full flight – whilst hearing ‘Slippershell’ with the full band is quite inspiring.

Even the shortest tracks are exceptionally varied. ‘Folding Fire (1)’, complete with flute, is perhaps the prettiest track the band have ever recorded whilst on the other hand ‘Curtains (2)’ by contrast is a brooding, ominous track. And they’re still more than capable of pulling the old trick of switching moods dramatically mid-song – ‘Morning Birds (1)’ being the best example of this.

Maybe more than anything ‘P/P’ provides the simple joy of hearing these three musicians playing together again. Ten years is just too long without a Muses record.

‘Purgatory/Paradise’, to be taken as a whole, absolutely requires commitment from the listener. But it’s an effort that will ultimately be rewarded. However you want to define it is undeniably in a class of its own.

Ultimately it’s a singular record befitting of a singular band. There’s really nothing like it out there.

The video for ‘Sunray Venus’:

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