Well Worn Ground
It’s been over 30 years since folk punk godfathers Violent Femmes released their savagely hormonal self titled debut and inspired the purchase of many an acoustic guitar.
Now, 16 years after the release of their last record Freak Magnet, the band has buried more than one hatchet and returned with the unsteady but undeniably charming We Can Do Anything, featuring original members Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie with Brian Viglione, formerly of the Dresden Dolls, on drums. One of the most striking things about the Violent Femmes in the 1980s was how full of youthful angst and energy that you could feel in the pit of your stomach (and with “Blister in the Sun,” a bit lower) and it’s hard to keep up that type of atmosphere decades later. Ideally, this new record would be the natural progression from their last album, showing how they’ve grown and evolved into a band that could play together again. Unfortunately, it feels a bit more like they’ve tried to recreate their past when they no longer have the rawness that it demands.
That said, We Can Do Anything is still an altogether pleasant and catchy record. The opening track, “Memory” will get your toes tapping even before Gano’s unmistakable voice comes in. The next song on the album, the accordion filled, dragon slaying, pirate anthem “I Could Be Anything” feels like a pretty big leap from the track before it, and will certainly be the most memorable point on the record, for better or worse. There is no doubt that this is a Violent Femmes record. It’s got all of the trademark twangs, snappy bass lines, and songs about masturbation that one would expect but it’s all missing something. Even the dark depths reached in “Holy Ghost” don’t come close to the pits found on any track from Hallowed Ground, and it’s highly unlikely that any song on We Can Do Anything will spark the same fire that the band’s first offerings did.
That’s okay though. It’s been 36 years since the Violent Femmes formed and no one would have expected them to produce the same sort of music that they did in 1980. But, clearly, that’s what they were hoping to achieve and in that, they’ve fallen flat. We Can Do Anything is a great listen once or twice, and it won’t go down in history as an example of why a band should never reunite after so long (there are already too many examples of that to count), but it isn’t definitely isn’t proof that they should either.