Violent Femmes

New Times

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This quirky release shows the Violent Femmes casting far afield stylistically after the comparatively consistent (and excellent) platter Why Do Birds Sing? Only the catchy "4 Seasons" and the guitar-vocal-only "I'm Nothing" are in the jittery busking style of their previous album. There are a modest number of harder-rocking selections here, such as "Key of 2," "Don't Start Me on the Liquor," and the title track. The rest of the songs are highly eccentric, showing wide stylistic variation. "Mirror Mirror" is an ethnic-flavored ditty that would fit right alongside the numbers in the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof; oddly, the song ends with an avant-garde jazz improvisation section. "Jesus of Rio" alternates between slow waltz and fast polka sections. "Breakin' Up," with lyrics that reference Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," is a dour, menacing slow-tempo number that features growling, low-register singing. Also threatening in manner is "This Island Life," a moderate-speed song with a girl group-derived thumping beat, a more upfront chorus, and a psychedelic closing section. Most unusual of all is "Machine"; derived from synthesizer techno-dance-beat music, this selection also slows the tempo considerably from other examples in that genre, mechanizes the musical delivery, and features electronically altered vocals. Lyrics are intelligent and effective; two selections, "Agamemnon" and the title cut, have verses derived from Walter Mehring's Einfach Klassisch. Sound quality and production are good. This at times bewildering album is worth a listen, especially for those with eclectic taste.

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