Mary Timony 2024
Photo: Chris Grady / Pitch Perfect

Mary Timony Explores Grief with Clear Eyes on ‘Untame the Tiger’

Rock guitar virtuoso Mary Timony’s Untame the Tiger is a clear–eyed, unsentimental, top-shelf record that emerged during hard times.

Untame the Tiger
Mary Timony
23 February 2024

Mary Timony‘s varied career has won her a devoted following that really should be larger. Even if she isn’t on the tips of the tongues of today’s tastemakers, Untame the Tiger is another chapter of her consistently excellent output from one of our best rock songwriters. Hopefully, this record will find a bigger audience since she was named one of the Greatest Guitarists by Rolling Stone. Besides her signature guitar playing, she also mentors up-and-coming talent, provides mentorship and consultation to women musicians starting in the music business and teaches guitar lessons. 

From influential bands that don’t get enough flowers, such as Autoclave and Helium, to the supergroups Wild Flag and Hammered Hulls and the sublime power pop of Ex Hex, she has shown a remarkable balance of being immediately identifiable without sounding repetitive. This, her first solo album in 15 years, is one of the high points of her career.

Untame the Tiger is a clear–eyed, unsentimental record that emerged during hard times. While writing it, she was dealing with the end of a relationship as well as caring for her aging parents to their deaths. Given the magnitude of what Timony has experienced in the past couple of years, one might expect a series of ragers or introspective acoustic tracks. Instead, we have an even-keeled, top-shelf cycle of pop and rock that occasionally makes room to let the songs linger a little past four minutes, with some cutting lines sprinkled throughout.

Produced over two years in vaunted studios such as J. Robbins’ Magpie Cage and Studio 606, which is owned by the Foo Fighters and Timony’s basement, and mixed by Dave Fridmann and John Agnello, Timony enlisted some of the very best, and it shows. The production really shines on Untame the Tiger. Everything sounds just right, aligned with the matter-of-fact, straightforward arrangements and direct lyrics.

It’s exciting to hear Mary Timony back in the driver’s seat, in control of the sound of Untame the Tiger, which seamlessly blends the irresistible hooks of her work in Ex-Hex with the moodier arrangements from her Helium days. While her collaborations are consistently excellent, she is always a critical reason for their success. Untame the Tiger has an auteurist streak, and it is better for it. If you’re looking for a comparison point from her discography, it is closest to a more mellowed-out Ex Hex than, say, the unbridled energy of Wild Flag or the noisy dreaminess of Helium.

Timony said in an interview on the podcast Kreative Kontrol that the lyrics lean more into the lost relationship than caring for and losing her parents. The record opens with “No Thirds”, introducing the theme of love lost in a breezy, locked-in six minutes. “Dominoes” explores the pull of a person destined to be the wrong one. “When I met you, you were talking like a madman who just got high,” she sings. Later, this relationship is described as “Going 90 in the wrong direction”.

While it’s easy to empathize with Mary Timony by listening to the record, she isn’t interested in a “poor me” narrative; if anything, she is unsparing about choices made with the heart more than the head. The resignation in “The Guest” is powerful, as Timony acknowledges the one near-constant companion in her life–loneliness. It is a clever approach to a much-covered topic. “Don’t Disappear” verses sound closest to Helium, from how Timony sings them to the foreboding hook, but then shift into an Ex-Hex adjacent chorus. It’s one of the most compelling songs on the record. Untame the Tiger will be irresistible for longtime fans, but hopefully, the recent acknowledgment of her guitar prowess will bring some new listeners to the fold. 

RATING 8 / 10