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Violent Femmes - We Can Do Anything (Review)

Violent Femmes, We Can Do Anything

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE ninth studio album from world-famous punk-folk band Violent Femmes is also their first full-length collection in more than 15 years – but while certainly fun in places, it’s only a partial success.

By the band’s own admission, We Can Do Anything marks “a natural continuation” of their signature sound, which means a mash of rambunctious folk, minimalist punk, cubist blues, cosmic jazz and backwoods rock ‘n’ roll, set against some provocative vocals that tap into everything from true love to slaying dragons to masturbating.

Album opener Memory sets things off in promising fashion, with some lively folk-rock guitar and Gordon Gano’s distinct vocal attempting to remember a former girlfriend… but failing dismally. It’s kind of funny, but perhaps a little remiss – edgy but fun, just the way Violent Femmes like it. The track was actually raided from the vaults… an unrecorded song that felt ripe for reviving and giving a spin. And it works in making you remember – if you can – why you may have fallen in love with Violent Femmes in the first place.

Its successor, the madcap I Could Be Anything, is the dragon-slaying track that is rife with crazy banjos and crackerjack, sing-along vocals. Late on, it even taps into film musical territory, emerging as something that could even qualify for a spot on a musical soundtrack, such as Paint Your Wagon. It’s crazily endearing.

But it’s also indicative of the take it or leave it quality of some of the songs. The craziness inherent in a lot of their compositions is just as likely to be alienating as it is inspiring to some. And the album does, admittedly, work a lot better when reigning in the crazy.

Issues is another example of this. The chorus is catchy as hell, and all the more notable for being married to some pretty disconcerting lyrics. But the stabs of off-kilter brass lend it a distinct but sometimes unnecessary element of crazy.

What You Really Mean, by contrast, benefits from slowing things down, coming over all mid-tempo, and allowing Gano’s more serene vocals to slow-build so that the lyrics really resonate. It’s much more widely accessible and actually bittersweet and beautiful.

Likewise, Foothills, which builds some robust folk-rock guitar licks around foot-stomping drum beats and a chorus that declares “I can’t tell you why I’m in love”. It’s confused but hopelessly endearing (in spite of the reference to an early morning jerk).

Having built some genuine momentum, the album then falters slightly with the dangerously loopy Traveling Solves Everything, which is a little too edgy for its own good (complete with a more warped central vocal), while Big Car feels more of a journeyman offering… and even a little lazy given the way it continues the idea of travel.

The cubist blues of Untrue Love sounds like a really hangdog Elvis Presley track before I’m Not Done rounds things off with a barmy mix of folk, rock and country. As with several tracks, it manages to endear in spite of its faults… much like the album as a whole.

We Can Do Anything therefore goes down as a welcome return – but one to recommend with some reservations.

Download picks: Memory, I Could Be Anything, What You Really Mean, Foothills

Track listing:

  1. Memory
  2. I Could Be Anything
  3. Issues
  4. Holy Ghost
  5. What You Really Mean
  6. Foothills
  7. Traveling Solves Everything
  8. Big Car
  9. Untrue Love
  10. I’m Not Done