By Andrew Howie
I was pretty stoked when I found out Milwaukee acoustic punk trio the Violent Femmes were releasing a new album this year. Their signature melding of heartbreak, doo wop, teen angst, and oddball absurdity swirl together nicely behind frontman Gordon Gano’s trademark angry whine, while bassist Brian Ritchie rips up the low end and new drummer John Sparrow provides the familiar train drums underneath it all. They’re a band you know when you hear them, and their songs get stuck in your head for days.
Their latest album, We Can Do Anything, is definitely more of the sound fans have to come to love, with a few twists thrown in here and there that keep things interesting and show that the Femmes haven’t lost their drive to venture into new territory. Opening track “Memory” features sun-drenched acid-rock (complete with a shimmering solo) with 60s-era Stones-esque vocals. The influence of classic rock continues in “I Could Be Anything” with more sardonic-yet-hopeful lyrics, and rhythm reminiscent of The Who’s “Boris the Spider”.
Lowdown dirty saxophone blows into what could almost be construed as radio pop in “Issues” before the first real surprise of the album on “Holy Ghost”: ethereal, oceanic synths melt away into gentle acoustics, before charging through their usual grungy bar feel that wouldn’t feel out of place in an episode of Portlandia. It makes me want to go get out my flannel shirts and my beat-up acoustic and go busking.
The album continues basically along these same lines; traveling through road trip music, movie montage soundtrack gems, and verging on hill-people bluegrass stomp, We Can Do Anything may not be the best place for a newcomer to start listening to the Femmes, but longtime fans will definitely be happy (also, having seen the Femmes last year, their live show is surprisingly intense, and I can definitely picture these new songs rocking stages all over the country).
Violent Femmes have always stuck to what they know, and they do it well, so no complaints on my end. There is also a strong feeling of optimism here, which is somewhat out of character for the down-on-their-luck persona the group has cultivated since the 80s. It’s a welcome change, however, and given the band’s rocky history, it’s refreshing to see them still trying new things and playing awesome acoustic music that somehow always just feels right when you don’t know what else to listen to.
Rating 7 out of 10