Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes - Review
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critics' view

How do you “review” a classic? That’s easy, you don’t. What more can you say that hasn’t already been said? Ultimately, my advice is to put this record on and let it do all the talking. If by the last song you don’t think this is one of the greatest albums ever, “you can all just kiss off into the air”.

The ingredients are simple enough. A snare, some brushes. A big fat, Ernie Ball acoustic bass. Bucketful’s of teen angst. A dash of tongue in cheek wit. And okay, maybe a little violin.

Who in the hell knows what ‘Blister In The Sun’ is about? Who cares? Call it a panty raid on the inarticulate. With one of the greatest hooks ever. Here’s to you Big Hands, you know you’re the one.

‘Kiss Off’ is one of the greatest “fuck you” songs of all time. That big bad maniac of an Ernie Ball bass duking it out with Gordon Gano’s acoustic guitar. Hard not to walk away from this one without a black eye, a broken tooth and a smile on your face. In case you were thinking of walking away, ‘Please Do Not Go’ is guaranteed to stop you in your tracks. Then leave it to ‘Add It Up’ to grab you by the collar and holler its grievances in your face. Posing that immortal question, “Why can’t I just get one more fuck?” An expletive dripping with sarcasm and loaded with double entendre. The year was 1983 and who knew you could say “fuck” on a record? And who knew acoustic instruments could sound so damn brutal and Punk as fuck?

‘Confessions’ begins all morose and solemn. Gordon’s Gano’s vocals quivering with anxiety and loneliness before things explode to ‘hack, hack hack it apart.’ Going to show that the Pixies weren’t the first band to partake in that whisper to an unholy scream dynamic. In fact, I’d be surprised if this album weren’t at the top of the Pixies’ list of influences. As for the Femmes’ influences, Lou Reed to be sure. And where many have cited Jonathan Richman and Modern Lovers, Gano has countered by insisting he was trying to sound like Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate. Regardless of that, the sound created here is distinctive and original.

‘Prove My Love’ is a simple love song, sung with all the intensity of a stalker who just set his restraining order on fire. Gordon Gano’s vocals, juggling sneering sarcasm and pleading vulnerability. No easy feat. And while, ‘Promise’ is one of the songs most likely to be left off any Greatest Hits, it’s not to be missed. In terms of deep cuts, this one is from the gut. One of my personal favorites on this album. Same goes for, ‘The Kill’. Warped and ominous, another reason why this album is so indispensable.

As for ‘Gone Daddy Gone’, this is the song that first caught my ear. Believe it or not, I heard it on the radio. Of all places. Remember, the radio? A song, featuring not just one but two xylophone solos. Suffice it to say, I soon sought out a copy of the album at my school library. Yeah, the library. It blew my sixteen-year-old mind apart. Once I picked up the pieces, it left an impression that has lasted for over three decades.

The album ends with the unabashed ballad, ‘Good Feeling’. A song that never fails to send me. Here the brass knuckles come off and all you have is a lump in your throat due to its world-weary tenderness. A little violin offering just the right glimpse of naked hope in this dark, emotionally violent world.

Listening to this album some 35 years since it first came out, I’m struck by the fact its edge hasn’t dulled one bit. What’s more, unlike a lot of records of its era, it doesn’t sound the least bit dated. To put it simply, its timeless. And I’ll say the same for their follow up, Hallowed Ground. A record that is equally influential yet, often overlooked. But that’s another story. There is simply no record quite like Violent Femmes’ debut. Some say it’s the ultimate teen angst album. But with repeated listens, that’s a superficial assessment. What it does, is capture a basic human need. The need for connection. For acceptance. For lack of a better word, love. Reciprocated or not. This album is a cry in the dark and a reach out for all the above. That’s why it’s made such a mark on so many for so many years. It speaks on a deeply intuitive level. As twisted as it all seems, it has what all great records have: Compassion.

I confess, this isn’t much of a review. And what’s more it’s the furthest thing from objective. Have to say, it’s pretty silly for me to even write this appreciation since the lead singer happens to be a friend. Hell, I’ve even opened for the Femmes and lived to tell about it. What’s more this is my wife’s favorite album. So, it gets played an awful lot in our household. And I’ll tell you, honestly and from the bottom of my heart. I never get sick of hearing it. Never. In addition, I find I can never turn it off when its playing. It simply won’t let you. It’s like the movie, Jaws. You can’t resist it. The sucker just grabs you by the throat and won’t let go, taking you for one hell of a ride. When people refer to something as a classic, this is what they mean.

Kevin Orton
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