Picks and Pans Review: Violent Femmes 3

updated 03/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Violent Femmes

On this trio's 1983 debut album Gordon Gano sputtered out the lyrics, "I'm so lonely/ Feel like I'm gonna crawl away and die." In 1989 he sings a new song: "There's nothing worth living for tonight." Sounds as if the guy got stuck in the same old groove, but Femmes fans will note just how much this group has changed—even if the boys' arithmetic isn't looking too sharp—on the band's fourth album, Violent Femmes 3. Whereas Gano delivered his earlier songs with a nutty, smart-alecky edge, he now wallows in adult and unadulterated depression. His new songs cry out for guidance in a world where religious ethics, the family and sex roles have been destroyed without anything to replace them. No questions here on the legitimacy of his worries, but the relentless gloom of his delivery is off-putting. Recorded with bare-bones accompaniment—a few guitars, drums and a horn here and there—Violent Femmes 3 lacks the musical verve of earlier VF albums. It sounds as if this trio, originally from Milwaukee, put all of their stock in raw emotion and didn't spend enough time polishing their songs. Gano, who has also performed recently with a Christian rock group, the Mercy Seat, too I often falls back on his evangelical beliefs as a topic of discussion. Still, he hasn't lost his appealing edginess: He jerks from restrained whispers to absentminded muttering to yelps so anguished he chokes on the words; he mixes lyrics about dark, mysterious sexuality with a crushing sense of sin and guilt. Such intermittent glimpses of talent and originality leave a listener hoping that the Femmes will rediscover the balance of intensity and distance, sincerity and sarcasm, simplicity and diversity that made their past albums so worthwhile. (Slash)

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