Alternative rock institution the Violent Femmes soldiered through the years as one of the more consistent bands of their genre. Their sound shifted from record to record, but the sharp and cynical folk-punk that put them on the map in the early '80s remained at the core of even their most slickly produced work. Tenth studio album Hotel Last Resort continues with aspects of their signature sound but also expands on it subtly. The band's straightforward but spiky melodies, stripped-down acoustic punk arrangements, and Gordon Gano's piercing, often-tormented vocals still make up songs like "Not Ok" and "This Free Ride." Tracks like these could fit more or less anywhere in the group's massive discography, hitting all the marks for their unique and ever-angsty style. They even revisit "I'm Nothing," a tune first released on their 1994 album New Times, updated from its original solo acoustic form to a full-band rave-up with understated horn arrangements and guest vocals from celebrity skater/sneaker designer Stefan Janoski. Things branch out into different territory on the surreal and moody title track. The song weaves a mysterious counterpoint between Gano's psychedelic lyrics and guest lead guitar work from Television's Tom Verlaine. Things also get a little weird when the band takes on two unlikely covers. "I'm Not Gonna Cry" was originally performed by Greek band Pyx Lax, translated to English, and reworked into something more Femmes-y here. More bizarre is the album closer, "God Bless America." The group transforms the Irving Berlin-penned anthem into a dark and droning folk dirge that slowly dematerializes into a sinister groove and grumbling blasts of contrabass saxophone. In addition to these wily covers, the band mixes things up with the a cappella word salad of "Sleepin' at the Meeting" and the sentimental balladry of "Paris to Sleep." By and large, however, Hotel Last Resort follows the formula the Violent Femmes have been perfecting since their inception, delivering an above average batch of their wiry, smart, and sometimes tortured songs.
Hotel Last Resort Review
by Fred Thomas