The Bodhisattva Beat
Music and Life

Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes 1983

If you were conscious in the early to mid 80’s then you remember Violent Femmes. The self-titled debut album was in constant rotation on college campuses across the nation, and everyone knew the lyrics to “Blister in the Sun” and “Add it up.” All this popularity and not one hit made “Violent Femmes” the seminal cult album of the decade.

So what happened? You never hear these songs played anymore. Did we get too old to connect with youthful slacker angst? I say hell no! Spin this disc again and it will all come back. You will be instantly singing right along too because these tunes are forever etched on your brain.

It wasn’t just attitude, the trio from beer town had a lot going on musically too. I’m not just talking about the abundant hooks either. In a simple song like “Blister in the Sun” they employed the use of diminuendo (look it up). Name me one other minimalist act of the era that did that. Brian Ritchie’s bass lines are inventive, and he even played xylophone on “Gone Daddy Gone!” Victor DeLorenzo smacks the drums in a frenzied surf style, and Gordon Gano, when not playing violin, often strays from folk guitar into blues and punk freak-out.

The lyrics, while at times crass, are quite clever. Although it probably shouldn’t, a line like “I hope you know this will go down on your permanent record” still rings true to me and makes me smile. You would think the adolescent sexual frustration of “Add it Up” would seem sophomoric to a man in his 40’s, but no. I have probably made more than a few U of M students say, “what the…” when driving with the top down and bellowing, “Daaay, after daaay, I get angry and I will say…” Lets us not also forget that in the same tune there is such genius wordplay as, “Words to memorize, words hypnotize, words make my mouth exercise.”

Most of what you read about this album will focus on the minimalism, but art is present as well. “Good Feeling” is actually quite touching and features some beautiful piano work by Mark Van Hecke. The almost blues of “Confessions” turns into some well-organized chaos in the end. Don’t let the intentional sloppiness of the guitar and bass obscure the fact that songs like “Kiss Off” and “Promise” are actually very tight. At first glance it may seem like they were just playing around but there was a lot of thought put into this music.

Let’s face it these guys were unique. They combined folk and punk with expert surf/British Invasion hooks. Sadly they were never able to capture the same magic again. They grew as artists and that’s a good thing, but no other Violent Femmes album came close to being the perfect package that is the debut. Every track is a distinctive gem. With the resurgence of raw and ‘punkier’ sounds it doesn’t seem so dated either. Still no one is doing it near the level that the Femmes achieved. You probably still have a copy packed away in a box somewhere, so go find it! If it’s gone forever then go buy a new one. “Violent Femmes” is a staple and your collection needs it.

Gordon Gano – guitar, violin, lead vocals

Brian Ritchie – acoustic bass guitar, electric bass guitar, xylophone, vocals

Victor DeLorenzo – drum set, Scotch marching bass drum, snare drum, vocals

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