Blending punk and folk with elements of country, rockabilly, and touches of grimy goth, the Violent Femmes are one of most eclectic and enduring (even if slightly esoteric) alternative acts of the 1980s. The Femmes toured throughout the ’90s and early ’00s and were a consistently great live act (I’ve seen them live three times and to this day, they’re one of my favorite live acts), yet since the release of 2000’s Freak Magnet, Gordon Gano and company have been relatively quiet, putting forth no new tracks aside from a lone single in 2008 (a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”) and performing sporadically before temporarily disbanding in 2009.
Yet after their 2013 reunion and a well-received appearance at Coachella, the Femmes (now comprised of Gano on lead vocals and guitar, original member Brian Ritchie on bass and a slew of other instruments, and Brian Viglione on drums) are back, on tour with the Barenaked Ladies this summer and putting out new music for the first time in fifteen years with the recent release of Happy New Year. The tight, four-track EP reveals that even thirty years after the release of their debut, the Femmes’ quirky charms are still largely intact.
Happy New Year doesn’t really stray too far from the band’s tried-and-true aesthetic – Gano’s singular, nasally voice is essentially unchanged after all these years and most of the tracks would fit right in as B-sides on any of the band’s great ’80s albums.
Lead single “Love Love Love Love Love,” features a lyrical countdown (“Step one, I did it for fun, it was a simple way to start…Step two led to step three led to my heading home in a rush.”) and a sparse, jangly riff that’s a little reminiscent of the classic “Add It Up” and a chorus that’s nearly as catchy. Another highlight is “Good For / At Nothing,” featuring a funky, swampy groove that makes Gano’s typically self-deprecating lyrics even more fun to sing along to. The country-fied eponymous track “Happy New Year,” about a miserable New Year’s Eve, is more of a novelty track (think 1983’s “Ugly”) and though it’s essentially a throwaway, it’s not without its goofy charms. Closing track “Fast Horses” is a dud though – the Femmes have never been particularly adept at ballads anyway and this one is bogged down even more by some painfully clumsy lyrics (“There’s something John Lennon never wrote / tell me what you hear when you listen closely to the notes / he never sang a beautiful song, not like Frank or what’s his name, Elton John / some crazy Christian killed him, the poor bloke”– huh?)
Aside from that one skippable track, Happy New Year is a solid effort and marks a welcome return for one of the 80s most unique, fun, and too often over-looked, bands.
Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs is a Senior Writer for Pop-Break, regularly covering Game of Thrones, Louie, Futurama, and Boardwalk Empire, as well as other delectable nuggets of TV, film, and music throughout the year. Since graduating with Highest Honors from Rutgers University with a degree in English, Kimberlee currently finds herself in a financially comfortable, yet stifling corporate environment where her witty and insightful literary and pop culture references are largely met with confused silence and requests to, “Get away from me, weirdo.” Still, she’s often thought of as a modern-day Oscar Wilde (by herself) and one day hopes her wit, charm, and intellect (again, self-perceived) will make her a very wealthy, very drunk woman. She’s also the mother of a darling little boy, Charlie Miles (aka Young Chizzy) who she hopes will grow up to not be too embarrassed of all of the baby pics she relentlessly shares of him on various social media sites.