Published Mar 04, 2016Naysayers could cynically argue that We Can Do Anything, Violent Femmes' first album in 16 years, is a flagrant attempt to recreate the sound of their early '80s heyday — and they have.
I prefer to think of the album as a surprisingly successful resuscitation of long-buried songs that fell victim to the band's interpersonal turbulence years ago (and are no worse for wear after dusting off) and of the band itself which, since the release of last year's Happy New Year EP, is moving beyond being a greatest hits reunion act (though they are really good at that, too).
On songs like opener "Memory" and the gloriously dark, speedy and lyrically contentious "Big Car," the magic of the performances is palpable. No mere replicas, the songs have staying power, and "Memory," though it's a typically snarky love song, also doubles as a wonderful reintroduction to their sound — it can be imagined as an entreaty for the music to "come back from the well of the void" along with the lost-but-not-fully-forgotten lover.
A handful of the new songs are co-writes, and of that bunch, "Issues," written with Sam Hollander and Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin, and slinkily augmented by Blaise Garza's low sax, stands out as an immature (in a grown-up sort of way) song of annoyance comingled with affection. Like many of Violent Femmes' best songs, it's funny too.
Some of the Femmes' most annoying material becomes endearing over the course of exposure: on We Can Do Anything, this includes a bouncy polka-punk kids' song about a knight, a king and a dragon ("I Could Be Anything") and "Traveling Solves Everything," a surf-klezmer song with flashes of Chuck Berry that hammers its point home relentlessly and gets funnier for it.
The record isn't perfect: n "What You Really Mean," written by Gordon Gano's sister, Cynthia Gayneau, Gano's vocals get a little overwrought (though it's great hearing the band take on such a heartfelt, melodic ballad, and they mostly pull it off); "Foothills," which cheerfully revisits themes of infatuation and masturbation, sounds a little like duplication; and the last couple of songs are less than memorable.
Yet the Femmes still have the power to tap into the adolescent wonder that lives on inside of all of us, ready to be flooded over with raw, silly, high-spirited music. (PIAS)