It pains me greatly to admit it, but there was a time not too long ago that I was, let’s say… uncultured when it came to popular music. Simply put, I didn’t know jack shit about music or its history, and the highlights of my collection included bands that I can’t quite bring myself to mention here. At one point, I was spending time with a guy who had considerable indie snob credibility, and while playing around on a keyboard one day, he began plunking out the opening bass line of “Blister in the Sun.” In a very cute, innocent way (well, it was cute in my mind), I said, “Cool, who’s that?” He then stopped playing in mid-song, looked at me with an expression of distaste on his face, and said with complete disbelief: “You don’t know the Violent Femmes!?” I was left with the conclusion that afternoon that I had somehow committed some oppressive type of cardinal sin. I consider the act of writing this review to be a form of ritual cleansing for my dirty, dirty soul.
All dirty sins aside, this story has a purpose. These days, music is a rather large part of my life (sleep, eat, work, music – not necessarily in that order), and I think it’s safe to say that my knowledge of rock and roll is fairly extensive. Included in this is a deep appreciation for the Violent Femmes in their role in music history, and this appreciation came a solid 23 years after their first album was actually released. This somewhat reflects the history of the band’s fame, seeing as how the Violent Femmes achieved platinum status on their self-titled debut and reached the level that we now call “influential” ten years after its initial release – remaining their one and only independently-released album to reach platinum status.
Violent Femmes is an album worthy of recognition not simply because it is really, really good music – it also plays a definitive role in the historical development of indie rock as we currently know it. Drawing influences from a great number of other legendary bands (The Cure, Devo, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, The Velvet Underground, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Jefferson Airplane), the Violent Femmes’ debut marked a period of time where punk music, in its original phase, was drawing to a close and opening up to the field of “post-punk,” siphoning off into assorted developments of the punk genre. The Violent Femmes’ fusion of punk and folk stylings ultimately became its own version of punk music commonly referred to as “folk punk,” a genre that brought us the likes of Against Me! and The Knitters. Additionally, the cult following of Violent Femmes was considered a part of the greater underground musical movement of the ’80s that ultimately kickstarted college and alternative rock, to become further developed in the ’90s and beyond. Since alternative rock jumped to mainstream success and therefore paved the way for the creation of indie rock, the Violent Femmes’ contributions to the development of alternative’s sound (i.e., up-tempo, powerful riffs, infectious choruses and systematic song growth) are fundamentally noteworthy in underground music history.
The album, itself, is minimally produced, letting the instrumental and lyrical details of the songs shine through. Gordon Gano, Brian Ritchie, and Victor DeLorenzo create songs that are cleverly structured, humorous, catchy, and memorable above all, with lyrics based around the key themes of teenage love, sex, hatred of conformity, angst, drug use, and the like. “Blister in the Sun” is the highlight and, obviously, the most famous song of the album, with its infectious percussion and funky rhythms, and “Gone Daddy Gone” is a pioneering track, with its excellent use of a xylophone (covered quite successfully as of late by Gnarls Barkley). “Kiss Off,” “Add it Up,” and “Please Do Not Go” are a few other legendary songs of Violent Femmes that make the album so accessible and transcendent across the years. And if history tells us anything, it’s probably safe to assume that there will still be nerdy people like me writing about the influence of Violent Femmes in the decades to come.
Similar Albums/Albums Influenced:
Fugazi – Repeater
Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!
Against Me! – Reinventing Axl Rose