When Slash/Reprise released Add It Up (1981-1993) in September of 1993, it was a bit of a slap in the face for die-hard Violent Femmes fans. Though the 23 tracks of "hits," rarities, and live cuts were more than appreciated, the group's supporters were once again forced to try explaining to the unconverted what the fuss was all about. Ever since their self-titled debut, which has become a right of passage for anyone embarking on puberty, fans have had to defend the group's forays into folk, country, jazz, pop, and rock, not to mention their protagonist's constant battle with spirituality both Christian and demonic, with equal parts passion and frustration. Permanent Record: The Very Best Of is a more coherent collection by far, providing both longtime fans and newbies with a solid hour of concise teen, artistic, and spiritual angst, most of which is just as cathartic now as it was in the '80s. The fact that such sexually charged and explicit songs as "Add It Up" and "Blister in the Sun" have found such a secure place in American pop culture is a testament not only to the group's raw talent, but its timeliness. In an era when punk sold out to corporate pop, the trio's bare-bones acoustic setup and melodic teen-rage sarcasm inspired a cultlike fervor among those who were willing to take the trip, and what a strange trip indeed. That the schoolyard simplicity of a track like "Kiss Off" would lead to a full John Zorn freak-out horn section on the subversive anthem "Black Girls," or that an old Appalachian praise & worship number ("Jesus Walking On the Water") would share the same slab of vinyl as the murderous "Country Death Song," goes so far beyond the term "forward-thinking" -- or more appropriately, polarizing -- that it's a wonder anybody had the nerve to follow them at all. Permanent Record captures all of the schizophrenic bliss that fueled the group's long road to legend without all the filler that made Add It Up such a challenge for the uninitiated.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger