Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes (1983)

I still remember that afternoon back in high school, hanging out with my friend David B. after class, when he said he had a brand new album I absolutely needed to hear.  And he drops the needle on side one of the Violent Femmes' self-titled debut, and it was one of those times where, within a minute or two, I absolutely needed to own a copy of this album.  Picked it up that weekend at the local record store.

Some 35 years later, it's hard to understate how revolutionary this seemed at the time.  Punk rock (or at least the scattered bits of punk rock that made their way into our neighborhood, stray tracks from the Clash and the Ramones and the Pistols and the Buzzcocks) meant high velocity and cranked up guitars, noise and thrash.  The Femmes kept the attitude, kept the simplicity and the rawness, but unplugged the guitars, leaving bare acoustic tracks that bridged the gap between folk and punk.  

While often sophomoric and deliberately crude, it also felt genuine, the work of a messed up kid trying to make some sense out of sex and religion and whatever angst he was feeling, but doing so without the need to crank up the guitars to 11.  (Later, in college, I'd be turned on to Jonathan Richman and realize this approach was not without precedent, though Richman's similarly earnest presentation was buoyant and playful, miles apart from the Femmes' darker impulses; but at the time, I'd never heard anything like it.)

The first 4 tracks just barreled out of the stereo.  The goofy, infectious "Blister In The Sun" and "Kiss Off," the retro-throwback sound of the lovelorn "Please Don't Go," and the pure punk fury (but for those acoustic instruments) of "Add It Up."  Elsewhere you had more broken-hearted pop tunes like "Prove My Love" and "Gone Daddy Gone," the band's earnestness at times coming across like Talking Heads 77 if David Byrne had written the songs when he was still 15, with singer Gordon Gano pouring out his soul.

It was youthful and exuberant, and still feels that way today.  It also felt like my own little secret (or at least mine and David's), the sort of album that you figured nobody else had discovered, though it lost some of that magic when I got to college and saw a bunch of drunken East Coast preppy-types drunkenly singing along to "Blister In The Sun."

The Femmes are still kicking around today (they had a decent album drop just a few weeks back), though this one stands alone in their discography; after the stark, downbeat gospel-infused Americana of the immediate follow-up, most of their work has been more musically sophisticated, the band finally plugging in their instruments and juicing up their performances, though Gano's lyrics continue to probe some interesting spaces, his vocals unabashedly naive and exposed.

Here's the "Gone Daddy Gone" video:
Here's "Blister In The Sun" live:
 ...and a live "Add It Up":