Album: Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
Review: Rolling Stone, 23 June 1983
Author: J.D. Considine
Violent Femmes is the unnervingly precocious debut of a Milwaukee trio that not only acts like it just reinvented rock & roll but somehow manages to sound like it as well. It isn’t just the band’s unlikely instrumentation – electric guitar, acoustic bass and a solitary snare drum–that flies in the face of rock tradition; everything from Gordon Gano‘s adenoidal lead vocals to the group’s flamboyantly absurd name (the Femmes are all male) indicates that this outfit ought to be both pretentious and utterly ineffectual. Yet there’s a genuine dynamism to this music, a raw, gutsy power that is as enlivening as the best garage rock.
To a large extent, it’s the directness of Gano’s lyrics–he’s given to sharp, simple images and blunt, euphonious rhymes–that keeps his songs from getting above themselves. In “Add It Up,” for example, he doesn’t mince words in describing his lack of romantic success: “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” he deadpans. “I guess it’s got something to do with luck.” As straightforward as his couplets are, however, Gano is clever enough to keep adding to his imagery until he’s pushed his songs to delightfully unexpected conclusions.
Still, it’s the music that makes Violent Femmes worthwhile. Brian Ritchie spins out bright, frisky bass patterns that mesh with Gano’s semi conversational vocal delivery. That interplay, combined with Gano’s spare rhythm-guitar lines and Victor DeLorenzo‘s unobtrusive drumming, gives the Femmes a full sound one usually doesn’t associate with a mostly acoustic format. Consequently, the Femmes can rock with conviction, turning out music that’s more than just a convenient display for lyrics
This was an album that I fell head over heels for way back in 1983 when a flatmate came in and said the rest of us had to listen to something he’d picked up after hearing it played while he was in a Glasgow record shop. It turned out to be something I’d never heard the likes of in my life before, and as a young man who was kind of getting fed up with ever failing adventures in terms of love und romance, it really hit the spot. Still an album I often listen to it all the way through almost 40 years on.