Monday, June 2, 2014

Classic Album Review: Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes (1982)

Not quite like anything else around at the time, this superb self-titled debut album caused something of a minor stir when first released in 1982. Combining garage pop attitudes and production values with something that could best be described as acoustic folk punk, the Violent Femmes present us with a bold set of stories (occasionally x-rated) about pubescent sexual insecurities, adolescent rebellion, drug-taking, and all-round teenage angst. You know – all of the usual daily dilemmas and standard issues confronting the average Milwaukee schoolboy of any given generation.

Songwriter and vocalist Gordon Gano had a knack for that old hammer-nail-head thing, and the strength of this album is the raw and direct confessional nature of his lyrics. Always challenging, frequently confrontational, and laced with humour, the words are ably backed up by a solid set of tunes, with plenty of quirky and interesting facets to the band’s overall sound – see percussion, xylophone, and unusual acoustic bass. The band employs various loud-soft-loud teases, plus repeated and often explosive changes in pace, an MO later mastered by the likes of The Pixies.

The album would become something of a college radio playlist favourite for the best part of the next decade, and the Femmes for a short period following this album’s release built up a relatively sizable following largely through word of mouth and limited underground/non-mainstream level exposure.

The band’s career proved very fragmented in the end, the past three decades having been littered with fall outs, splits, and repeated attempts to reunite. There was a particularly public and bitter falling out in 2007 when Gano allowed ‘Blister In The Sun’ to be used as an advertising jingle for fast foods chain ‘Wendy’s’ – much to the shame and chagrin of the other rather more principled members of the band.

The Violent Femmes never again scaled the critical and commercial heights reached here, and despite attempts to reinvent themselves on more experimental later works, they perhaps suffered from being typecast too soon, and to some extent the band was viewed as a one-dimensional one-trick pony. Whatever, we’re left to reflect on what essentially became an unfulfilled promise.

‘Blister In The Sun’, the opening track, is one of the album’s genuine highlights, but look out too for ‘Kiss Off’, ‘Add It Up’, ‘Please Do Not Go’, ‘Prove My Love’, and ‘Gone Daddy Gone’. My version of the CD includes two excellent bonus tracks, ‘Ugly’, and ‘Gimme The Car’.


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