Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Triumphant return of veteran US oddballs. There have been a fair few testing times in Violent Femmes’ four-decade career, not least when bassist Brian Ritchie sued frontman Gordon Gano after the latter had sold advertising rights for Blister In The Sun to a US burger chain. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads .
Anyone hoping Violent Femmes’ return would exhibit attempts at musical transformation might be disappointed with the band’s ninth studio album. But the record, produced by long time friend and frequenting member of the group Jeff Hamilton, is still a fun, nostalgic celebration of the laid-back acoustic-punk they created with their self-titled debut and The Blind Leading The Naked in the ‘80s. And that’s exactly what makes We Can Do Anything so enjoyable.
Mostly plundered from frontman Gordon Gano’s archive of song ideas, Violent Femmes’ ninth album – their first for 16 years – is very much a mixed platter. Gano’s idiosyncratic, jerky yowl is surprisingly unchanged from the band’s early 80s post-punk heyday. Their energy isn’t quite as spiky, their intensity less urgent, but they’ve held on to their trademark jittering guitars and drums, singalong hooks and skewed, Jonathan Richman-like faux-naïveté.
Reunited in 2013, 30 years after their brilliant debut album, the veteran punk-folk band released a very promising EP last year. This ensuing album – the first substantial Violent Femmes record since 2000 – starts with a look backwards, a previously unrecorded song from the vaults called Memory, in which Gordon Gano (guitar, sneery vocal) tries to remember details about a girl. It’s classic Femmes – tuneful, bordering on sociopathic, big on Brian Ritchie’s acoustic bass.
The Violent Femmes spent the bulk of the 21st century either touring their old hits or suing each other over the proper royalty payment of said hits. Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie buried that hatchet in 2012 and reunited the following year, losing drummer Victor de Lorenzo after those 30th anniversary concerts -- but the pair soldiered on, recording We Can Do Anything, the band's first album of original material in 16 years, with Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione. We Can Do Anything doesn't bear any signs of outright animosity: Gano sounds as twitchy as ever, always poised on the brink of apoplexy, either at himself or some piece of nonsense, while Ritchie shouts back in solidarity or sarcasm.
Is nothing sacred? Not in the realm of musical reunions, apparently. The demand from fans to draw their favorite ’90s bands out of their slumbering cocoons has lured just about every alternative-era act not named Hüsker Dü or The Smiths out of retirement in recent years. Everyone from Veruca Salt to Ween have seemingly made a play at recapturing their former glory.
Imagine that you had made a great, enduring piece of art with a couple of your friends when you were barely out of your teens. Now imagine that it's more than 30 years later, you no longer have anything in common with your former comrades, and all anybody wants to hear from you is that one glorious burst of hormonal fury you came up with as alienated kids. That's roughly the position in which Violent Femmes find themselves in 2016, as they release their first album of new material since 2000.
The Upshot: It may have been 16 years since they last put out a studio album, but they still sound as brilliantly odd as ever. The Violent Femmes have a new record out and unlike many Gen X go-to’s this isn’t simply an old live recording they pieced together and threw out on vinyl to put off foreclosure for another day; nor is it a live recording of a 20-plus-year old album, played from start to finish (I’m looking at you Jesus & Mary Chain, and you too Dandy Warhols). It’s an honest to god, new record with new songs and it’s actually good.
Everyone reaches a point at which hearing the opening riff of “Blister In The Sun”—for maybe the hundredth time, maybe the thousandth—results in a spontaneously induced catatonic state, triggered by decades worth of overexposure. There’s nothing much to be done about it, really. As part of the soundtrack for a 1997 dark comedy starring John Cusack as a distraught hitman donning a black suit and skinny tie? Not bad.
It says a lot about the staying power of Violent Femmes’ 1983 self-titled debut album that people are still excited about new material from the pioneering folk-punk trio, despite the general consensus that they’ve never quite managed to reproduce that early magic. It’s not that their later records are duds – more that their debut captured the hormonal excesses of teen angst in a uniquely visceral, authentic way. It would be unrealistic to expect the Milwaukee trio to sustain that once they’d left adolescence behind, but it’s impossible for them to escape their legacy.