Almost Credible Reviews

Home | Album Reviews | WRC Links | Ratings Explanation

b000002heg.01.jpg

Back To The Violent Femmes' Page

New Times—8 
 
Released: 1994

1) Don't Start Me On The Liquor  2) New Times  3) Breakin' Up  4) Key of 2  5) 4 Seasons  6) Machine  7) I'm Nothing  8) When Everybody's Happy  9) Agamemnon  10) This Island Life  11) I Saw You In The Crowd  12) Mirror, Mirror (I See A Damsel)  13) Jesus of Rio

 

Original Violent Femmes drummer, the underrated, minimalist Victor DeLorenzo, left the group following “Why Do Birds Sing?” and his departure brought with it an almost complete change in sound.  Guy Hoffman was found as a replacement, and it is impossible to tell whether or not he has as much attitude as DeLorenzo because hardly any of the tunes on their subsequent LP are overtly similar to the Femmes signature style.  Noting this transformation, the group called their release “New Times.” 

 

More than any other Femmes offering, longtime fans of the group criticize this album.  It seems that the mature sound on “3” was tolerated, but with the return of the traditional Femmes’ shtick on “Why Do Birds Sing?” fans wanted and expected the group to keep making acoustic punk albums until they ended up on “Where Are They Now?  Myself included.  New Times” showed me how wrong I could be, and made me realize how much I underestimated the group’s direction.  This album is unlike anything the band ever attempted, with a more New Wave/Elvis Costello approach.  They not only expand the number of instruments played (including violin, sitar, reed organ, twelve string and upright bass, and electric piano), but produced a much more diverse record, complete with electronic beeps and atmospheric soundscapes.  Each song takes the listener to a different genre, but Gano and Ritchie are able to keep enough of the Femmes spirit alive so you don’t get completely lost.           

 

Don’t Start Me On The Liquor” starts the album with an overly long, bluesier Violent Femmes, anchored by Ritchie’s pounding bass.  The middle solo section is one of the least cluttered of the band’s career, and one of their best.  This excellent opening track is about as typical sounding as the band gets, with each of the following numbers (almost in order) slowly wiping away their former approach.  On cue, the title track slows things down, and seems like it pieces together three different tunes, including a cartoon like chant section, and a great closing instrumental.  It is so freaking odd, that without Gano’s sneer, you wouldn’t even recognize this as a Femmes submission.  Breakin’ Up” is much more deliberate and creepy, but stylishly smooth, reminiscent of the slower sections of “Never Tell.”  It is moody, but in a laid back, underhanded, deserter way, and is a great change of pace.     

 

Key of 2” keeps the styles moving, as it is dark and heavy sounding with lyrics about a prison band.  This is as Industrial as the Femmes get, with only a great Ritchie piano fill brightening things up.  4 Seasons” is a much more restrained effort, sounding like any number of Femmes’ throwaway tunes: catchy, pulsating, and fun.  But there is something darker here…the production is more angry punk than the teenaged scoff of their first records.  Dark doesn’t even begin to describe “Machine.”  Here the Femmes do Tom Waits…this song sounds like a robot’s death march.  You’ll probably never listen to it more than twice, but damn if it doesn’t create a deathly cold, terrifying atmosphere.

 

Following such a freeze, the Femmes offer up a song that on the surface seems more like their standard acoustic selves.  But “I’m Nothing” is a Fifties inspired, hidden gem.  Continuing the group transformation, only Gordon Gano and his acoustic are present on this track, making for a singer/songwriter type feel.  Slowing things to an almost standstill, “When Everybody’s Happy” seems like it is a standard Gano loser ballad, but it atypically includes a gorgeous violin solo, and is overall one of the band’s most charming songs, with just the right amount of sap and humor. 

 

The dark, cartoonish “Agamemnon” is obtuse and ridiculous, but does have some good grove to it.  I’d like the chorus to play every time I walk into a room full of people…”Here is Agamemnon, Here is Agamemnon…” that would rule.  The song doesn’t though.  This Island Life” however, does rule, even though it is five and a half minutes, slow, and swampy.  The gloom, curtsey of a violin, electric sitar, and female backing vocals is just so sinister and Ritchie’s manic coda so fantastic, that this is an easy highlight.  I Saw You In The Crowd” is a great song, one parts mood, two parts bass, three parts groove, four parts Hawaiian vacation (listen for it), and five parts humor.  That makes fifteen parts, and that is about how many songs it seems like the Femmes meshed together to make this under-appreciated, idiosyncratic classic.

 

The two remaining tracks come out of left field, but the band carries them so well, that the Femmes should have been producing these kinds of songs for decades.  Mirror, Mirror (I See A Damsel)” is an Old World, Eastern European jaunt…whimsical, fun, curious, and I enjoy the hell out of it.  It isn’t their best overall song, but it is close to being my favorite!  The closing “Jesus of Rio” is similar in style to “Mirror, Mirror” with its carnival sound and screwball wackiness.  The track, again, seemingly combines three different songs, but again, the Femmes pull it off with flying colors and this album is a true testament to their talent.                     

 

I never thought I could like a Violent Femmes album as much as “Hallowed Ground,” but this comes close.  There is no filler on “New Times” at all, and the band, despite the loss of their drummer, sounds as tight as ever.  While it doesn’t have the force or acoustic decadence of their classic efforts, this album is more diverse and eerie.  You can’t start your collection with this record, but in order to fully appreciate the band’s capabilities, you must own this overlooked gem.  And there are simply no excuses not to…as of this writing, there are currently 123 used “New Times” on sale at Amazon.com, starting at $1.23.  I got my copy for $.85 at Half.com…Take advantage now before people finally start to catch on!

emi0031.jpg
The site was designed by Burnttoast45