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
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.
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.
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
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
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!