Unless you've spent the past three-and-a-half decades co-habiting with several million grains of sand under a rock, it's highly unlikely you'll be unaware of the Violent Femmes. Having formed in 1980 as punk gave way to new wave (or post punk as it's since come to be known), the Milwaukee trio - despite employing several drummers along the way, they've always remained a trio - released one of the most thrillingly captivating debuts of that decade three years later. Undoubtedly a fore bearer for all things lo-fi and slacker, 'Violent Femmes' set its creators up for a long standing career that brought in eight more long players until the band's acrimonious split in 2009 after bass player Brian Ritchie's now infamous lawsuit against guitarist and main songwriter Gordon Gano over selling their best known song ('Blister In The Sun') for a television commercial.
Nevertheless, the passing of time can be a great healer and four years later the duo reunited with yet another new drummer Brian Viglione for a series of shows culminating in the writing, recording and release of the Violent Femmes ninth record, 'We Can Do Anything'. That this would prove to be Viglione's final contribution to the band was perhaps inevitable, and at the start of this year it was announced he'd been replaced for the scheduled run of live dates to promote the album.
Of course, one thing about having such a strong legacy associated with your first record is that every subsequent release thereon after will find itself compared to it. And while there's no doubt the Femmes have an impressive body of work in their canon, that debut ranks as a hallmark of perfection and as a result, has become something of an albatross around Gano and Ritchie's collective necks.
Which isn't to say 'We Can Do Anything' is a particularly bad record. It isn't, but in 2016 it's not really that vital either. For all their past glor(y)ies, there's no real reason for a new Violent Femmes record to emerge other than its creators obvious desire to make music. Forget the alimony and bad blood that flowed with it, in a day and age where most new music is consumed for free, it's unlikely either party (forget the now departed drummer) would make much of a financial killing from this, so at least that unshakeable need for creativity should be applauded.
That said, opener 'Memory' is as close to the old school Violent Femmes as they've been in a long time, while self-deprecating anthem for losers 'Foothills' ("I know sometimes I'm a jerk") and poppy country rocker 'Big Car' also hit the spot. Elsewhere, 'I Could Be Anything' sounds like an escapee from the Oktoberfest beer festival as trombones pap their horns at regular intervals over lyrics that boast about pulling elephants out of hats at one point. While 'Issues' outwaves The Wave Pictures - arguably the closest thing to the Violent Femmes today - with Gano's wistful tones declaring, "Life is at the top, death is underneath."
Although 'We Can Do Anything' doesn't outstay its welcome, clocking in at a minute or so over half an hour, there's a sense of relief when uptempo polka punk number 'I'm Not Done' brings down the album's final curtain. On its own merits, 'We Can Do Anything' sits comfortably among the rest of Violent Femmes output but unequivocally falls short of their halcyon era.
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