THE FEMMES ARE DEAD! LONG LIVE THE FEMME!?!
Out of the ashes of the world’s ultimate cult band, the infamous Violent Femmes, finally calling it quits, not due to giving up making new music, not due to losing band members, not due to “creative differences”…. No, it was a Wendy’s commercial that did in probably the most important band of my life.
Now, this is, apparently, old news. See, back in 2007, Brian filed a lawsuit against Gano over rights and royalties after hearing “Blister In The Sun” on a Wendy’s commercial and nearly choked on his shakuhachi. That certainly would make for awkward bus conversation while on the road, eh? I betcha back when they were busking on the streets of Milwaukee, they’d never had guessed they’d fight over a song being used to pimp out square burgers from Ohio…
Well, though my life changed when I heard the Violent Femmes about, what, 20 years ago or so for me? I can’t say I was all that sad about the late begotten news. After Freak Magnet (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and that eMusic “album” thing called Something’s Wrong (yes, something WAS wrong), the boys hung up the idea of writing new songs and resigned themselves to touring from college town to college town to play “Blister In The Sun” for the 1,000,000,000th or so time to a bunch of frat boys drunk on Bud or Miller or PBR or whatever it is now that they think may help their chance to get laid…
Seriously, you have to wonder what would go through Gano or Ritchie’s head when playing BITS again & again & again &…. Grocery lists? Complicated mathematics? Deep philosophy? Or “man, that chick in the front row is a total hottie, but probably young enough to be my granddaughter…”? I can’t even begin to imagine. One man’s heaven is another man’s hell.
The last time I went to see them, it was about 5 years ago here in Columbus and, as much as it breaks my heart to say it, I left half-way through (and I NEVER leave shows I pay for early). It was when the kids on the floor started “moshing” to “Country Death Song” (and no, not the rowdy finish, the slow build up) while Ritchie & Gano looked, in their eyes, like they were a million miles away, and it was then that I knew, for me at least, the Violent Femmes were done.
I still listen, of course, I love the Femmes! My favourite albums are New Times, Rock!!!!!, & Hallowed Ground and I occasionally dust them off for a spin. Their cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was just stunning. But, it, like Neutral Milk Hotel, is the past. Love it, but recognize it as such, and your heart can’t be broken.
But Gano (thankfully) wasn’t done yet, he wasn’t ready to be a fixture on a park bench throwing popcorn to pigeons while sipping whiskey from a brown paper bag thinkin’ of the “good ol’ days” and what else may or may not have been…. No, he had some noisy neighbors that seemed to have the, ahem, “matches” to light his “creative fire”. God, that was worse to write than I thought. But whatever the silly visuals you use to describe how The Ryans (of The Bogmen) and THE Gano got to workin’ together, they did. After performing their first song together “Under The Sun” at some 9/11 thingy, the recordings start really flying, apparently nearly 40 full songs (according to the Yep Roc bio) and when the fury and dust settled, we were left with 12 brand spankin’ new Gano-led songs stuck in one album named after the song that really got it going, i.e. Under The Sun, in case you weren’t paying attention… And you know, the 16 year old in me couldn’t have been happier!
THE FEMMES ARE DEAD! LONG LIVE THE FEMME!!!!!!
So how is it? Well, if you checked in yesterday, you would have heard (and seen) “Wave And Water” and though that is a pretty sweet, dark, and slightly funky tune, I don’t think it represents the album as a whole.
Things start off fast and fun with “Man In The Sand”, a decidedly non-Femmes like song (actually, almost REM-like), which is perfect, as it sets the stage to shake you from that prejudice you might carry when you push play the first time. We go from there to “Wave And Water” then slow it down to the accordian-infused dark, drawn, & dragged out “Here As A Guest”. Before you think we get too dark though “Hired Gun” perks up and on it goes, up and down, a bit old-timey country here, a bit jangle pop there, an odd stompy rocker pops up (see “Red”) a bit klezmer rompy romp over there (see “Oholah Oholibah”), and capped off with Gordon going accapella on some twisted play on words lyrics at the very end of “Judge To Widow”.
I got to say, first, it’s rejuvenating and just wonderful to hear emotion come out of Gano’s whiny-ass voice! I love it! Next, yeah, there’s a bit of Femmes-ness here and there, you’d have to be pretty dead inside not to make at least a few little tiny comparisons (and I’m not dead yet!)…. But what matters most is Under The Sun is genuinely a fun, yet dark, yet fresh, kinda religious & creepy stalker-tinged, and yes, delightful good time.
Would you like to go to the oceanside
would you like to go out there for a ride
My dear, see the sea is so clear
and so bright, tonight, and I’m feeling so right
I could die!!!
I am the man in the sand…