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Violent Femmes are and have always been a unique group, why the punk-folk genre they pioneered in the early ‘80s is an oddity itself. The band’s chemistry is undeniable: for nearly forty years singer-songwriter Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie have kept the project alive despite having several personal differences. The next chapter in the group’s artistic odyssey is called Hotel Last Resort, and while the record displays the duo’s unmistakable musical symbiosis, it doesn’t have much to say that isn’t already known.
When a group as storied as Violent Femmes releases a new album, it should be cause for celebration. Hotel Last Resort is the band’s first album with drummer John Sparrow and its second full-length release in the last three years. The record is filled with tracks that for the most part keep a similar pace going, and lyrically are somewhat hollow in meaning and relatability. The album attempts to be a social commentary, an observation of today’s worsening partisan politics, yet it misses the mark in more than one way.
“Another Chorus” is the album’s ignition turn into the folk-punk world the band has so carefully crafted for decades. The song boasts some fantastic drum fills from Sparrow, is fun, cheeky and right up Femmes’ alley. The record appears as if it will keep the good spirits going in the hard-strummed acoustic strings of “I Get What I Want,” but this is not to be the case. “I’m Nothing” begins the political mud-slinging with lines like “Are you republican or a democrat?/ a liberal fascist full of crap?” As distasteful as political attacks from any direction are in music, they are even more so when the artist dissociates himself from the discussion by saying “I’m nothing” repeatedly. The Stefan Janoski feature is the track’s saving grace.
“Adam Was A Man” is an ode to Gano’s gospel-rock past, and is one of the more upbeat songs on the album with crisp electric guitars leading the way. The title track features Television’s Tom Verlaine who helps add some much-needed depth to the acoustic strumming with flanged guitar licks that mesmerize. The song is a chip-on-the-shoulder tale by Gano that jumps around some abstract lyrics that punctuate with “I don’t change the chords anymore/ the chords change by themselves.” Once again Gano dissociates himself from everything he just said in the song, and on the album for that matter, suggesting to the listener that continuing the record is pointless.
Tracks like “Everlasting You” and “It’s All Or Nothing” keep the album’s pseudo-monotonous pace going. “I’m Not Gonna Cry” and “Paris To Sleep” offer a different flavor with the former flashing beautiful world instruments and the latter being a heartfelt ballad that suits Gano surprisingly well. The second to last track “Sleepin’ At The Meetin’” shows off Gano’s creativity acapella style and should have closed the album. The grand finale is Violent Femmes’ rendition of “God Bless America,” and yes it is about as fun to listen to as a current news cycle on any major network.