1) American Music 2) Out The Window 3) Look Like That 4) Do You Really
Want To Hurt Me 5) Hey Nonny Nonny 6) Used To Be 7) Girl Trouble
8) He Likes Me 9) Life Is A Scream 10) Flamingo Baby 11) Lack of Knowledge 12) More
Money Tonight 13) I'm Free
After the mature
sounding “3,” it seemed Violent Femmes were drifting towards something entirely different…like
they were making a move towards a more sophisticated sound. This apparent transformation
was short lived however, as “Why Do Birds Sing?” places the Femmes right back where they started. The music isn’t as dynamic, and the lyrics aren’t as fierce, but this
album shares many similarities with their self-titled debut, as virtually every track is packed full of that traditional
Femmes jitter. After repeated listens, I could totally understand how the record
could get annoying, but I have heard this album dozens of times, and I am still waiting for it to finally lose its luster.
gets things started with a novelty number, but a majority of the Femmes career is like that, so it works perfectly. Bouncing, with Christmas bells in the background, stupidly happy keyboard fills, a down home guitar solo,
a clap along acapella section—this is just a great time and excellent album opener.
“Out The Window” follows and is a hillbilly romp featuring Brain Ritchie’s amazing bass. The song isn’t anything special, but it is a fun little ditty, full of sing-along
catchy moments. “Look Like That” is a mid-tempo, head-bopper
with an “uh-huh…uh-huh” chorus. Like the rest of the album,
it is slight, but a blast when you are in the right mood. Next up is the great
cover of Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” featuring Gordon Gano’s voice with
the perfect mix of innocence and sarcastic punk. The ending Middle Eastern coda
is grooving and creepy in a Boy George meets Salman Rushdie kinda way, and this is clearly an album highlight.
Not so much of
a highlight as “Hey Nonny Nonny” though. As catchy a song
as the band has ever recorded, this is truly a dance inducing, driving down the highway, shout out loud, Femmes classic sound. It has been too long since the band did a song like this! Yes, it is lengthy, and a little annoying, but I don’t care, the tribal chorus is great and the guitar
solo and Stones’ owl hoots at the end get me bopping up and down. “Used
To Be” is the most New Wavey sounding tune on the album, with orchestrated backgrounds and a quirky beat. It is one of the most structured songs of the band’s career, with every little
bit sounding like it was planned instead of the Femmes usual spontaneous, things just might fall apart, sound. It is still a fine piece of work, and another good song.
Trouble” and “He Likes Me” are both harmless fun, with more bass walking expertise from Ritchie. The former includes the immortal line “I’ve got girl trouble up the ass,”
and a grooving instrumental break by the whole band. “Life Is A Scream”
is as traditional punk as the Femmes ever got. Gano’s voice is joined by
a loud, deep shouted harmony, and the tone is menacing and raunchy, but still has a little of that Femmes humor. It isn’t one of their better tracks, but is an interesting change of style. “Flamingo Baby” brings back the standard, mid-tempo Femmes of the earlier offerings. For what has to be a first in the history of words, Gano sings an ode to a girl using
a flamingo as a metaphor, and the tune is as fun as giant, delicate pink birds can possibly be.
of Knowledge” is more of the same upbeat, animated craziness, but distinguishes itself with the line, “When
I drink a lot of beer y’know I gotta piss…off people.” “More
Money Tonight” is a gentle, bleak ballad, for about thirty seconds, before turning into an ominous, tough, Alice
Cooper impression about how Gano can now make more money in one night than all those people who never believed in him. It is a very interesting effort and is more along the lines of what you would expect
this album to sound like following a record like “3.” The
closing “I’m Free” is a quirky, bluegrass jaunt with an excellent coda, very similar to the “Hallowed
Ground” period, and it ends the album on a very blissful note.
the first two records, the rest of Violent Femmes work is really hit and miss. "Why Do Birds Sing?" however,
is most similar to their breakthrough efforts in the early 1980s and is therefore, the best album they have released
since. It is fun, wacky, catchy, pompous, smart, and sophomoric while still being
some of the most melodic, goofy, and good time acoustic punk imaginable. It can’t
hope to better their first or second records’ dark gloom, but it is more fun, and just as hook filled. Like I said, the album will probably wear you down after a listen or four, but for me, this is a great,
entertaining little record.