Let’s start with the obvious right here; even if you don’t know it, you’ve probably heard a track or two off this album, and probably associate it with being a 90’s jam or something the members of skate punk bands you grew up listening to would dig, but the truth is that the Violent Femmes’ self-titled first album came out in 1981, and that’s a whole decade ahead of its time. Looking back now, it’s a wonder no one saw the 90’s coming just from listening to his album’s titanic magnetic force.
Album opener “Blister in the Sun” is one of the most popular songs here, along with “Gone Daddy Gone” (which was made popular in the mid-00’s due to its inclusion as a cover in Gnarls Barkley’s “St. Elsewhere” and, truly, as an aside, do people even remember Gnarls Barkley?) and both of them are suitable to show the pop appeal that this album carries, even with its ragged edges and rustic aesthetics. Twee punk strummer “Kiss Off” is probably one of their best songs ever and drifts fantastically into “Please Don’t Go”, a song that could very well be to blame for all the white-washed California reggae from the 90’s, but that’s a whole other story.
A Gigantic Cultural Force
Even taking away the fact that Violent Femmes did Pixies before the Pixies even had their first fight, this album’s cultural significance is rooted in how counterculture has taken a huge obsession on it, even after being spit on by mainstream media as a cool badge (although not as much as a Joy Division “Unknown Pleasures” T-shirt) and featured on How I Met Your Mother episodes (but hey, if you’re gonna have a first dance at your wedding, “Good Feeling” is definitely a great song for that).
One of the album’s most abrasive tracks, “Add It Up”, is also one of the band’s signature tunes, and for some reason its weirdness capture exactly what is so intriguing about this band; the uncommon mix of acoustic instrumentation with fast-paced punk music and bratty lyrics makes for very relatable textures of sounds, as it all sounds very homemade and amateur, but impressively captivating.
All in all, this album exists only by a funny streak of luck, as the band’s first actual recorded material, released as the sophomore slump “Hallowed Ground” included a long list of religious fanatism clichés and was heard more like standard Christian music, something that the rebellious teenagers and young adults in “Violent Femmes” would completely stand against.
Sometimes there are debut albums that are so perfect, that nothing the band does in their later years can really recapture their early years’ unique sound and energy, and unfortunately this was the case with Violent Femmes and the band’s follow-up releases were never as good as this first batch of whip-smart, practical and visceral pop punk gems, but their place as early alternative rock heroes will forever stand as long as there are rebellious teenagers still finding out about this record.