Produced by Lenny Kaye, released as a solo artist after her work with Throwing Muses - the Boston group she founded as a teenager, Kristin Hersh's Hips and makers is defined by a series of extraordinary songs; at once ambiguous, heartfelt, plaintive and simple/complex.
Hersh is a much loved musician, her admirers holding her in a special esteem that reflects the honesty of her work. See, for instance, this celebration of Hips and makers, two decades on, published in UK magazine, The Quietus that includes a touching anecdote where the writer recalls how he reached out to Hersh when his son was critically ill (and how they met and she later dedicated an album to his son).
Surely the sign of a great song, or piece of music, lies in the way it can prompt points of connection with other artists, while also remaining wholly distinctive. When listening to this I think of other songs that consider the same psychological territory ...
And yet, compared to Radiohead - where the natural elements, the sense of the world breaks down into something raw and elemental and Thom Yorke, drawing as you'd expect on his heritage of English Romanticism seeks communion there - Hersh's song is intimate, similar to a hand-written note left to be found by chance.
On first listen 'Me and my charms' seems to be so sweet and unaffected, the openness of the vocal backed by the beautiful guitar-line; at some points, discursive, at other points jagged and repetitive. Look at the lyrics and this impression is challenged: is this a fantasy of female self-abnegation found throughout the rock canon: from Hendrix's 'Little wing' on, or something more complex?
My favourite lyrics in this song come towards the end, when Hersh sings: 'You can't leave me now
You can't leave me now
I haven't left you yet ...'
I haven't left you yet.
When I was first at university back in the early 90s, there was a real ferment going on in terms of feminist literary criticism, with discussions about the possibility of a feminine aesthetic (largely inspired by French thinkers, such as Hélène Cixous).
Without wanting to overstate this, as the biggest fans I know of Kristin Hersh are men (though this might not be as contradictory as it seems) I think the brilliance of Hersh's song comes from the way it reflects something that is inherently 'womanly' - here is a 21st pop-version of the same, or similar.
And the alternate version of 'Me and my charms' - with strings, notice how the music works in a kind of coagulated density, but retains an essential lightness that comes from the water-like movement in circles, while slowing down the vocal delivery.