They're coming to SA - details hereBitterness, sarcasm and whacking sharp rock form the core of the Violent Femmes now world-famous sound, which took a while to reach the mainstream but remains "cool" even now that it has - to the extent that inhaleable flammable drug merchants will pay a small fortune to hire this American band as peer pressure.
The Pretenders' James Honeyman-Scott discovered the Violent Femmes (translation from that days slang: "Violent Wimps") on a Milwaukee street corner, where they were busking, and had them play the support slot at the Pretenders' gig that same night.
The Very Best Of takes the musical tour, beginning with the half-mean half cry-for-help adolescent perve of "Gimme the car" (only available as a single from Rough Trade, or on compilations) to the hits from their self titled debut, which went platinum only years after its underground release - "Blister in the sun", "Gone Daddy gone", "Kiss off", and "Add it up" (A.K.A "Why can't I get just one f***").
The follow up album Hallowed Ground (1984) gets two cuts, both of which highlight the satirical side of the band, who used musical forms favoured by the conservative middle American Baptist background they came from to offend the good folks back home - and enlighten them. "Black girls" for instance openly sought to shock and challenge Baptist racial separatists out there. "Jesus walking on the water" was harder to pin down... could this be a pro-Christian song? Many say it is. Others want it to be pure satire because it makes THEM laugh. A third fanbase say it's just the honest confessional of a true Christian battling with issues of faith and belief - and they're right.
Songs off The Blind Leading the Naked (1986) stick with the same simple, but not stupid, sound. Drummer Victor Lorenzo may have been playing a washtub instead of a kit, but he played that washtub with empathy for the songs' meaning. Vocalist and guitarist Gordon Gano was extraordinarily good at making both sing with a similarly vernacular sound.
And then there's a shift towards greater use of covers and satire, away from the original straight punk formula with the hillbilly "Nightmares" off 3. They're running out of inspiration for hit songs, and it shows, though they're clearly still cool. "American Music" off 1991's Why Do Birds Sing? is almost a summary of what spawned the frustration they recorded so beautifully in their early work.
New Times (1994) yields the overproduced gothic "Breakin' up". By this point, they're losing pace.
The rest of this best of is more a collection of rarities - "Colour me once" from the Crow OST, "I danced" off rock, "Country death song" (Live version off Viva Wisconsin) and "Freak Magnet" off the album of the same name. Their 2001 MP3 only album doesn't feature much. There are three hidden tracks that won't play on a computer, and a dragging live version of "Good feeling" - originally from their debut.
As a hits compilation, The Best Of isn't, unfortunately, the best. Where is "Waiting for the bus?" Where is "36-24-36"? Another compilation called Add it up has much more of their excellent earlier work.
Just looking for rarities? Apparently, the deluxe double CD version of their debut, with 22 unreleased rarities, is THE one to have - partly because it's very hard to buy, even online. Also because their first album pretty much was a greatest hits in itself.
The Violent Femmes rock. This is a very good CD. It is. It's just not as good as others out there.- Jean Barker
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