Album Review: Violent Femmes ‘We Can Do Anything’
Written by Brooke Forrest on June 28, 2016
Alternative rock icons the Violent Femmes return to music with a unique new album
Album: We Can Do Anything
Artist: Violent Femmes
The Violent Femmes are back with their first album in over 15 years. We Can Do Anything is an unexpected combination of odd and deceptively simple songs that create a discreetly impressive story of a band with a great history who are now attempting to make their way back into the present.
The strange drawings on the front cover are actually a great way to judge the album. At first glance, it seems like a child’s drawing, but in fact it was created by Barenaked Ladies member Kevin Hearn. The album art may appear simplistic and silly, perhaps even juvenile to some, but upon further review it is more interesting and creative than that. It is certainly not the type of art that appeals to everyone but it’s still worth a first and even second glance. The exact same could be said for the music on We Can Do Anything; the whole album seems to be full of hard to pin down songs, each with their own unexpected dynamics and ever-changing style. But the unusual, almost childlike, quirkiness that runs through the majority of the album could be a bit of a turnoff for many, especially those that expected an album full of sequels to the band’s greatest hits.
The first single, “Memory,” feels reminiscent of the Violent Femmes many of us knew and loved perhaps because it is actually a song that they wrote in those early days but it didn’t make the cut on previous albums. Besides being an enjoyable return to form, and somewhat unlike the rest of the album in that regard, it also feels like a fitting lead for their first major release in many years. Since this is the start of a new era for the band, what better way to begin it than by recalling the past before heading into the future.
The other main track of the album is the sort-of titular track, “I Could Be Anything,” which at first feels almost like a goofy bar song or something made for children, but quickly becomes more complicated than it seems on the surface – even if that complexity takes place more in the music than the lyrics. The song is humorous and entertaining, and it begs to be sung in unison, playing out like a short fairy tale in song form. The unusual changes in tempo and sound keep it interesting and delightfully playful. “I Could Be Anything” is more than just a silly ditty, but it isn’t masquerading as something deep either. Instead it is a positive and enjoyable jam about the ability to do anything, even slay dragons.
“Foothills” is another notable track, fun and sweet as well as cleverly dirty. It feels a bit like the old stuff but with a fresh semi-mature energy combined with youthful naivety. Another return to form is “Big Car,” which takes the zany nature of the the bulk of the music on the album in a different, much more familiar, way. This feels a lot like an older Violent Femmes song, full of borderline tongue-in-cheek but still amusing lyrics, delivered in perfect Femmes fashion – and with an unexpected but humorously sinister ending.
The other tracks on the album are more unusual and unexpected songs, either breaking form entirely or creating a curious take on former themes and sounds. “Issues” is almost a drama anthem and it feels like something that could be covered successfully by a pop singer, but the unusual musicality and instrument choices turn it into another odd track on an album full of peculiar and indefinable music. The new style choices and complete departures from their former sound are not bad, per se, but they aren’t quite what you might expect from the band. Each of these ‘new’ style tracks have something to offer, from the charming sweetness of “What You Really Mean” to the dejected ambivalence of “Untrue Love”. “Traveling Solves Everything” and “Holy Ghost” are sinister, but fun, tracks that create a stimulating and dark vibe. “I’m Not Done” is a wonderfully bright and hopeful finale that fits right in with the rest of the album, giving it almost perfect closure.
All in all, We Can Do Anything is a brief journey, with the whole album only clocking in at about thirty minutes. However, what it lacks in consistency and length it brings in continual attention-grabbing material. The album goes by quickly; it is a fun and easy listen and you are never left bored or complacent. Somehow every song sounds entirely different yet interrelated. It is an entertaining album full of hard to ignore music, but at times the unusual musical choices can overpower a band that has been able to do great things with purely simple songs in the past. The eccentric and complicated nature of the music on the album is impressive – it just doesn’t always blend well with the simplicity and style of the lyrics. But with the use of creative and unexpected instrument choices, paired quirky lyrics, they do pull off an undeniably unconventional record.
I really believe that the Violent Femmes can do anything and be anything; they have proven they are still their beloved former selves as they explore and experiment with new sounds and styles. They can’t be restricted by their past, while it isn’t just a memory anymore it also isn’t all they can be. For some, this album might not be the triumphant return of a much beloved band that they had hoped for, but while the Violent Femmes toy with some similar sounds of their former selves, the fact that they boldly take this album into strange and borderline ridiculous directions proves that they are still just as talented, snarky, and smart as they once were, and I really hope that they are in fact, not done.
editors note: Make sure you check them out on tour this summer!
2. I Could Be Anything
4. Holy Ghost
5. What You Really Mean
7. Traveling Solves Everything
8. Big Car
9. Untrue Love
10. I’m Not Done