in the Sun 2) Kiss Off 3) Please Do Not Go 4) Add
It Up 5) Confessions 6) Prove My Love 7) Promise 8) To The Kill
9) Gone Daddy Gone 10) Good Feelings
Violent Femmes debut was
released in 1983, but sounds like it could have come out in 1968, 1996, 2018, or anytime since rock started. It has a universal sound: seemingly simple riffs, lyrics reeking of adolescent anguish, excellent musicianship,
an ideal-for-its-surroundings whiney vocal style, and most importantly, amazing songwriting.
Every 15-year-old guy has a Violent Femmes stage, even if they have never heard one song from the band. And it is the Femmes take on teenage induced passion, anger, and innocence, which gives them their timelessness…they
didn’t create the sound of hormonal rock (patent pending on that term), but they did perfect it.
Gordon Gano, Brian Ritchie,
and Victor DeLorenzo, from Wisconsin (yep…the Badger State), came right out fully formulated on Violent Femmes
as a punk band that knew how to play their instruments and did so acoustically. Gano,
who was still in high school when this was recorded, wrote every song on the album, and it is his voice and lyrics that carry
the tunes, but Ritchie’s manic bass, and DeLorenzo’s innovative drumming really punctuate his message. “Blister in the Sun” demonstrates this perfectly.
The one Violent Femmes song that everyone knows, this ridiculously catchy tune created the band’s style instantaneously—that
simple little riff that ANYONE that has picked up a guitar more than 5 times can figure out, Gano’s hot blooded shout
cries, Ritchie’s amazing acoustic bass as a lead instrument, and those quiet DeLorenzo drums—all right there. This has a cheery sound to it…one of the few tunes on the entire album that
sounds happy. Is it happy? I have
no idea at all. The lyrics make no sense in any real way, but somehow sum up
everyday of my life from age 13 to right now.
Off” follows and brings with it the anger. Not Insane Clown Posse anger
or whatever—the song isn’t about breaking stuff…this is degenerate, confused, acne anger. You know what I’m talking about: the suicidal feeling when your girl breaks your heart…when
the world hates you…when school, friends, relatives, all try to help you…the “fuck you all” anger
that is puberty. And the song rules. The
best song on the album. The bass and drums freak out to match the lyrical countdown
of reasons for taking pills (pills to kill yourself or get better? Gano makes
it seem like he doesn’t care which). The anger subsides on “Please
Do Not Go.” Gano is still pissed, but more at himself than anything;
for not telling some girl he likes her, and now she’s leaving. The music
is kind of a 50s style ballad complete with crazy, but great, background vocals. In
fact, the background vocals really make the album for me…they somehow sound exactly the right kind of out-of-tune, and
always are in the right places.
“Add It Up”
is the album’s centerpiece. Acapella at the beginning, normal sounding
Femmes in the middle, and a 4-minute long sonic mess to close it out, it features Gano pleading for just one kiss, then one
screw, and finally “just one fuck.” It is too long really, but its
anger and hurt flows throughout and is deserving of its underground classic status.
“Confessions” is slow blues with Gano crying about being so lonely.
There is an electric guitar solo that is as desperate as the lyrics and the ending buildup sounds a little like the
Doors “Not To Touch the Earth,” but instead of claiming to be a Lizard King, Gano admits, “I’ve
learned my lessons and I don’t even want to hear about your confessions.”
An interesting ending to one of the best Side A’s of the 1980s.
Side B doesn’t
come close to matching the A side, but does kick off with a Femmes classic, “Prove My Love.” This shares a lot with “Kiss Off,” but might be even catchier. With perfect background vocals, excellent drumming, funny lyrics, and a golden melody, it goes back again
to the 1950s sound…Little Richard or Elvis Sun Sessions (obviously, with a hyped up, punk rock feel) and is another
highlight. “Promise” sounds more New Wavey than the rest of
the album with Gano really sounding sour in the middle section. It isn’t
great but is more than filler. The band sounds more serious on another atmospheric
piece, “To The Kill.” It features an excellent electric guitar
solo and is the creepiest song here, but also the least accessible.
Ritchie uses xylophones to
form the backdrop of “Gone Daddy Gone.” It adds some craziness
and a more fun feel to the second side with its very likable melody. The xylophone
solo really makes you smile and remember how much fun the first tracks were. That
fun is short-lived however, as the ballad, “Good Feeling,” closes out the album. It is a nice little haunting country love song that when you get right down to it…well, this album
is about being a teenager and most teens put up a good front with all their big talk and attitude, but really have
more times than they’d admit that this song relates to…lost, scared, and needy.
In the mid 90s,
Violent Femmes’ sound was adopted by Green Day, Blink 182, and the Offspring to mass appeal and continues to creep up
on the charts, with the Strokes’ “Someday” and Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” But nothing these bands have done has even come close to surpassing Violent Femmes
debut masterpiece. This is the best acoustic punk album ever made and one of rock's
most underrated classics.