Violent Femmes - 3 (1989)
It's true that the Femmes self-titled debut is an alt-rock classic that deserves its legendary status. In all likelihood, they will never top it. It spoke to so many disaffected kids and elucidated in an amusing, crazy, heartfelt way the pain of growing up and life in general. There's a reason why the band almost always end concerts with songs from the debut like "Add It Up" and "Blister In The Sun" - they're still the best. I've had the pleasure of seeing them live and it was definitely one of the most fun times I've ever had seeing a band. Catch 'em live if you can!
Newbies should always grab the first album before getting anything else (even, I would say, the ADD IT UP best-of collection). But for true fans, there are many more great songs to be heard from their discography. 3 has been roundly dismissed by most critics and fans alike, but I contend there's much to love here and the album is highly underrated even though it doesn't come close to matching the debut. Give it a shot.
"Nightmares" - "Every time I try to sleep I have nightmares/ Thinking about getting together with you" - Gordon Gano once again mines relationship troubles for songwriting subject matter. This is a jangling, bubbling mid-tempo song, not bad but far from the best they are capable of. Brian Ritchie's homemade bass guitar sounds great bumbling along. ***1/2
"Just Like My Father" - A short, frenzied stab at their classic folk/punk sound including highly personal (autobiographical?) details about F'd up family relationships, suicidal thinking, etc. This is classic Femmes subject matter as is the hyperactive style. These guys create quite a racket considering the fact that they only use acoustic instruments. This makes some people automatically think they can't sound hard, but they can definitely thrash out when they want to. ****1/2
"Dating Days" - Fast-paced country-ish rocker with classic Femme lyrics - "It was fun but now it's done/ Our dating days were just a phase" . . . "No matter how much I drink/ I seem to still stay sober." *****
"Fat" - Here, Gordon hopes his ex-girlfriend gets fat so she'll take him back. Goofy, bluesy fun. ****
"Fool in the Full Moon" - A standard, basic Blues run at heart, but the track is on fire, both guitars flying off the hook. Works itself into a warped punk frenzy before dissolving into prickly Velvet Underground/Television-style guitars. *****
"Nothing Worth Living For" - This one is a sad, beautiful ballad.Gordon Gano's voice is kinda strange - in a good way. Rather wobbly and whiney, it's certainly not for all tastes, but he's an incredibly expressive, unique vocalist. *****
"World We're Living In" - Love all the different instruments on this eccentric groover, especially the xylophone. Victor De Lorenzo is a surprisingly vital element to their sound, especially considering the fact that his drum set is quite minimal, typically employing only a snare drum and a single cymbal. ****1/2
"Outside the Palace" - a gentle, pretty song with a great lyrics and melody. ****
"Telephone Book" - I guess you could call this country, but no one does country like these guys. Fun song. *****
"Mother of a Girl" - I would actually say that this hard, passionate, killer song ranks high, approaching the greatness of their debut. *****+
"Lies" - Only lasting a minute and a half, this fun, jovial track features what sounds like a banjo. The lyrics are great. *****
"See My Ships" - Absolutely stunning. This is a ghostly, aching track and it cuts deep. Gordon's vocal performance is intense. Another one that ranks with their very best songs. *****+
I realize that this album merits 5 stars based on the numerical average of my individual song ratings. However, such exercises are highly subjective and limited, and it doesn't reflect how much better the debut is, so I will rate it four stars. It's not their best, but I do like it a lot. Recommended