Originally released in 1982, Violent Femmes' self-title debut album is rediscovered year after year by a new crop of adolescents drawn to its bleak portrayal of youth seeking acceptance, meaning, and, most of all, sex.
This album is sometimes explicit and often open about a topic that is forever on the minds of adolescent boys. But this is not an Aerosmith, Van Halen, or 2 Live Crew album. This is an album for a different sort of teenage boy, or teenage boy at heart.
On our way to the 2006 LSU vs. Auburn game, Poseur and I discussed this album among other great albums. I stated, "Van Halen portrays teenagers the way they wish they were. Violent Femmes portrays them the way they actually are." Poseur agreed, but qualified it by saying that Violent Femmes portrays teenagers who are perhaps a little more sensitive, a little more self-conscious, and a little more insecure than most. Those who fall into this group of kids find themselves drawn to this particular album.
The album, like most of Violent Femmes stuff, is quite minimalist in its sound. Most of the songs are played with a snare drum, an acoustic guitar, and an acoustic bass. What it lacks in musical sophistication it makes up for in lyrical sophistication. Every one of these songs is beloved by its fans. The songs are a classic collection of songs about unrequited love, difficult relationships, sexual frustration, and disappointment. Taken together, the songs make a bleak story of a troubled adolescent struggling to come to grips with the minefield that makes up relationships between men and women. It's no coincidence that the members of Violent Femmes do not at all look like rock gods. They look like twerps, frankly, and probably lived out the stories they tell.
We start, of course, with the classic hit on the album, "Blister in the Sun", a song that is most definitely about masturbation. My wife and I went to her little brother's high sc hool football game (he was in the band) about 4 or 5 years ago, and the high school band played "Blister in the Sun". We mused aloud on the question of whether or not any of the school officials actually understood the song, and wondered if any of the students actually understood it either. Our guess is no, and no.
We move on to other songs with other themes of lost love and disappointment. Other than "Blister in the Sun" is a little piece of vulgar rebellion called "Add it Up". The song is an epic tale of sexual frustration, and yes, it contains the f-word. The song goes through a lot of lyrical and musical changes on its way to the end, and is one of the great rock songs of all time.
It's almost difficult to write a review of this album, because every song is so good, with the exception of the 2nd to last song, "Ugly", which I never cared for. Other classic Femmes songs on the album include "Gone Daddy Gone", "Please Don't Go" and my personal favorite "Gimme the Car," which is one of the few songs on the album to prominently use an electric guitar. Here's a video of "Gone Daddy Gone", which is one of the most famous songs to ever prominently feature a xylophone.
There was a time, perhaps as late as the late 90s, where I said this album was the oldest album that does not sound dated. Now, it sounds kind of dated. It's still one of my very favorite albums, and remains in heavy rotation.
Later Femmes albums didn't resonate quite like this one, though there is a lot of good stuff in the Femmes catalog. One of my favorite songs off an album other than this one is an infectious little song called "American Music".
And just for good measure, here's a strange clip of Violent Femmes appearing on Sabrina The Teenage Witch. Sabrina wants to go to a Violent Femmes concert, but her caretakers won't let her. A solution presents itself, and we get to hear Gordon Gano play an abbreviated version of "Please Do Not Go", and we find out that the Femmes like to watch Ren & Stimpy for fun.
This is an album that a lot of people really and truly identify with. It's intense. It's lyrically dense. It evokes pain and suffering, but wraps it in a singable, catchy album with great choruses and acoustic riffs.