If you didn’t know already, life’s been pretty good to me here lately. Things are coming together in a way that makes me super excited for the future, and hey! I’ve only got a little over 80 entries until Album Du Jour ends and I’m finally free from this horrible writing project! I think it’s time to celebrate. Let’s do so by talking about the Violent Femmes’ final album, an album so bad it made the band agree to not make any more music:
You heard me, I did not say that this album was so bad it broke up the band. No, the band actually only just officially broke up this very year, but this album was so bad and sold so poorly, the band mutually agreed that they should never write another song. They kept this promise for the 9 years between this album’s re-release and the band’s subsequent break-up over matters pertaining to Wendy’s Old Fayishoned Haimbergers, da best haimberger in da bidness. How does an album become that bad? Well, let’s have a look!
Actually, unfortunately, the original version of this album has been pretty much lost to the ages. The band was signed to Interscope Records at some point (I don’t have the kind of time to find out when, jeeze) and despite going into the studio, presumably playing some instruments and singing some songs that they wrote, and going so far as to produce an entire album, they were dropped before they could really release the thing. I guess it’s only fitting that Freak Magnet would start out as an abortion.
Still, like some freaky zombie fetus (possibly the only instance of zombie fetuses on this blog, just sayin’), the album, with different songs, somehow, was picked up by Cooking Vinyl in the UK, and the Shout! Factory (responsible for bringing us pretty much all joy) picked that up and released it in 2005. This is where I come in. I found the album, completely new, still in the shrink-wrap, for sale for $1.99 at Half Price Books, and it was nowhere near the last one in stock.
To be perfectly honest with you, I am listening to this album on $500 headphones, and I am in an incredibly good mood, so I will tell you that this album is actually pretty good for a $2 album. It’s different, that’s for sure, but even that is arguable, because I have only heard one of the albums between the incredible Hallowed Ground and this one. Still, how a band goes from the amazing, passionate yearning of a pale weirdo to a punk rawk song called “Mosh Pit”, the entirety of the chorus of which is “MOSH PIT MOSH PIT! MOSH PIT MOSH PIT!”, could not be a healthy process.
Indeed, a lot of the finesse and charm and even the raw passion of the Violent Femmes has been replaced by an attitude of “oh screw it, let’s just put SOMETHING in there”. The “Mosh Pit” song I just mentioned? The track right before it is called “Rejoice And Be Happy”, a distorted bass-tastic praise and worship song about God. After the “Mosh Pit” song? An acoustic, kind of retarded version of “Blister In The Sun” called “Forbidden”, which sounds kind of like tropical beach music, complete with sugary harmonies and an island woodwind solo.
Yeah, this album is kind of like a favorite saying about the characteristically unpredictable weather in Texas: if you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes. It’s probably a good thing, because the album tries to start on a moody anti-cultural slam called “Hollywood Is High”, and indeed the endless repetition of the chorus is a constant reminder of what song you’re listening to, but the lyrics are so disconnected and random that you can only vaguely tell that he’s talking about Hollywood like what’s in California.
It actually takes about 10 songs into this 18 song disasterpiece to hear a song that kind of sounds like “classic” Femmes, the broody, acoustic, and rather beautiful “When You Died”, which deals with the usual themes of depression and suicide and death and introspection, for about 2 minutes, anyway. It’s followed up by “At Your Feet”, which is even closer to old-school Violent Femmes than the previous track, you can even hear a little bit of brushes against snare drum between the more punk-like beats. I actually truly love this song, and despite the rest of this album, quite enjoy this portion of the thing.
Of course, as I said before, one only needs to wait a few minutes before the album changes again. This time, in the later part of the album, some kind of surf music seems to be the sound of the hour. It starts with “I Danced”, which starts with a crazy infectious beat before kind of lapsing into a kind of standard form. Still, no matter how stale the music may seem at this point, the bass-lines are all top notch, because God bless that Brian Ritchie, he actually seems to care. “I’m Bad” is kind of a similar song, but really the title should say it all for you.
“Happiness Is” is another mysteriously good song. It’s kind of weirdly worded (“spasmodically”? really?), but that kind of wonderful half-sincere song that doesn’t mind beating around the bush, and has a really snappy melody and beat that is very un-Violent Femmes really. I can dig it.
Finally, we get the last track proper in a song called “A Story”, which features detuned bass, guitar non-chords, and weird noises in the background. Instrumentally, it kind of reminds me of these “shreds” videos I’ve been addicted to for a while. The actual story is, well, an adults’ horror story told like a kids’ horror story. What I really love about this terrible song is that the voice of the “Monster” (yes, it has dialogue) is Brian Ritchie, the bassist, who, if you have never heard his voice, is the perfect monster voice.
Anyway, that’s it in a nutshell. This album is fast, stupid, and occasionally brilliant, but you’d probably do best to avoid unless you’re just that curious about how bad things could get. After all, what have you got to lose, $2?