We Can Do Anything
Reviewed by: Jane Roser
The Violent Femmes clearly ate some nails drenched in angst and cynicism for breakfast and all I can say is thank God.
We Can Do Anything is Violent Femmes’ ninth studio album and their first full-length collection in over 15 years. For all those early New Wave fans (like me) who were biting their chipped nails wondering if this album would be as good as their 1983 self-titled debut, worry no more- it is.
Recorded in studios all over the US while on tour, produced by Jeff Hamilton (Horns of Dilemma) and mixed by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, Jr.) with contributing artists such as Barenaked Ladies’ Kevin Hearn (on accordion, guitar and keys, as well as creating the album’s playful cover), We Can Do Anything captures the Femmes’ quirky and slightly audacious style which earned them millions of fans and turned them into something of a cult classic.
The trio is still the same- Gordon Gano (vocals, guitar), Brian Ritchie (bass) and Brian Viglione (drums). Gano’s unique vocals and catchy riffs make each of the album’s ten tracks a saucy trip down memory lane (their debut album was the first record I ever purchased with my own money and I still have it).
Gano sifted through his archives, listening to old cassette demos and leafing through journals to find songs suitable for the record and he obviously struck gold.
The album’s first single “Memory” was written by Gano in his 30s looking back at events from his 20s; it starts off with a catchy riff and then goes into the Femme’s iconic brand of sarcastic, witty lyrics: “I don’t remember the sound of your voice/I don’t remember, but it’s not by choice.”
“I Could Be Anything” sounds sort of like a high school marching anthem and tells the tale of a knight slaying a dragon (yes, a dragon), complete with a hilarious description of how he chopped off the monster’s head.
“Holy Ghost” and “Untrue Love” receive my utmost respect for using one of the most vile words in the English language (moist), but somehow managing to make it seem righteously cool. Plus, “Untrue Love” is a fantastic, backhanded love song in which the first verse is: “I hate to hear your voice in person or on the phone”.
“Big Car” is sung from the perspective of a horny teen and has a pretty demented final verse: “Come on we’ll go out, we’ll ride around/We’ll go out where there is no one, baby, and your body will not be found.” Totally did not see that coming; I had to listen to it three times to make sure I heard it correctly. Gano had the song sitting around for at least 25 years and even played it live a few times, but “there was always somebody in the group that didn’t want to do it, because they found that of all the songs I’ve written, this was the one that was truly objectionable with its lyrics. But this time, finally, it exists so people can make up their own minds if they like it or not.”
I’ve only seen the Violent Femmes perform live once and that was at Woodstock ’94 when they replaced, of all people, Johnny Cash, and played a visceral show I will not soon forget. The Femmes will be touring North America in support of their new album and if you have the chance to snag tickets, you won’t regret it.