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The Dose: Violent Femmes’ ‘We Can Do Anything’ shows they can’t do ‘anything’

The Dose: Violent Femmes’ ‘We Can Do Anything’ shows they can’t do ‘anything’

The Dose: Violent Femmes’ ‘We Can Do Anything’ shows they can’t do ‘anything’
March 06
18:41 2016

Tyler Hicks | Contributing Writer


Since their now-classic self-titled debut album in 1983, the Violent Femmes have experimented with their sound, released several compilations and even gone country for a short spell. But “Blister in the Sun” and “Gone Daddy Gone” remain their most popular jams, and their new album won’t change that.

Sixteen years of breakups, reunions, lawsuits and new additions have led to this moment, and while the aptly titled “We Can Do Anything” is a fun throwback to the group’s folk punk days, it’s also a reminder that they’ve never been able to top or match the high standard that they set over three decades ago.

This new release is their first studio effort since “Freak Magnet,” and many of the album’s tracks appear to be meditations on the tumultuous times that have plagued the group for most of the 21st century. Gordon Gano’s signature vocals shine brightest on the opening “Memory,” but half-baked lyrics let him down. It’s a poppy start to the ten-song tape, which, for the most part, finds the group returning to the angsty style that first propelled them into the punk stratosphere.

“Issues” sounds like a throwaway from their early days, as does the closing tune “I’m Not Done,” which resembles a song that a band slaps together when they want just one more song on the album.

The album deals with all of their major themes, including masturbation, religious doubt and girl trouble. These were all topics that were much more charming when the guys were in their twenties and still looked and sounded like something close to a college band.

But now that the Femmes and their fans are all grown up, you can’t help but hear songs like “Big Car” and “Holy Ghost” and feel nostalgia for the days when Gano and guitarist Brian Ritchie had a little more faith in their ability. Not to mention drummer Brian Viglione – formerly of The Dresden Dolls – who has since departed for greener pastures where (hopefully) he’ll be able to show off the talent that Gano and Ritchie decided to mostly mute for this project.

The accordion-infused “I Can Be Anything” and the lyrically potent “What You Really Mean” find the band treading on some new territory, but these tracks are the exception, not the rule. Of course, this is not to say that “We Can Do Anything” won’t be fun for longtime fans and ’70s babies who grew up wailing with Gordon Gano.

But, just like the penultimate song “Untrue Love,” the album ultimately feels out of place in the group’s discography. If anything, it should’ve come out in the late ’80s, when fans wanted more folk punk and less of Gano’s gospel side project.

The album seems like an attempt to remind listeners that the Femmes still rock, but in the end, it will leave most listeners in the same position as the band itself: longing for the old days, and pressing replay on the original, 1983 classic.

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