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Why Do Birds Sing?—8

 

Released: 1991

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.   

 

American Music” 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.   

 

Girl 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. 

 

Lack 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.      

  

After 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.

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