Releasing their first studio album in six years, the Violent Femmes have received mixed reviews. Comments have included progress, the punkish, cynical band still cranking out clever little ditties that are wearing thin after 15 years. Superficially, this may seem a correct analysis, but on deeper reflection, entirely wrong. VF's two previous releases, New Times, and, Why Do Birds Sing? are unrelated sounds, each its own genius, the maligned New Times a logical, intellectual sound extension, and also a filled-out, grown-up VF sound. Who else in the world could have written a catchy song about the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio? Freak Magnet has brushed away the complexity of adding to the New Times sound, an evolutionary dead-end, and made a switch as timely as U2's musical progress between Rattle & Hum and Achtung Baby. Freak Magnet reviewers have also been skewed by experience. None mention having seen the Femmes live, and this album is all about live; refer a welcome treat, Viva Wisconsin, released in the last 6 months. Freak Magnet is the cumulative output of 20 years plugged and unplugged, streetcorner, theater, stadium and studio. A writer's object is their so-called 'natural voice', not fancy college words getting in the way of communication, but a conversational voice best captured on a tape recorder. Freak Magnet is the VF Natural Voice, their musical Natural Voice, an album instantly translatable to the stage, the quick tempo of a busking-sound drum, their style, as distinctive as the wrong-end drumsticks of Pantera. Catch this music live and you will know conversion, and when it comes time to slow the show down, VF will perform bittersweet ballads up there w/ the best. U2 is rumored to be returning to their old sound- the Joshua Tree era- minus techno, can they as assuredly make the transition to their roots as the Violent Femmes?