Violent Femmes - Freak Magnet
Beyond Music



Last Saturday night I stumbled home drunk with only one thing on my mind
-- listening to the Violent Femmes' self-titled first album. After hitting
two parties and hearing various songs from the album I knew I needed to
spend a good half hour reacqauinting myself with it. I dug through my box
of records and found it. As I pulled the record out of its sleeve, it
slipped through my hands. I quickly grabbed it to keep the record from
shattering on my floor, and while I saved the record from certain doom I
also managed to put a huge scratch across the entire first side of the
record (which, of course, contains half of the best songs the Violent
Femmes ever wrote). After I realized that I had just rendered this album
virtually useless, I decided I might as well listen to the Violent Femmes
newest album, Freak Magnet, and see how it held up to the classic stuff.

Freak Magnet was originally scheduled to be released by Interscope Records in 1998. After listening to the record, it became very clear why Interscope did little more than ship out promotional copies before dropping the record from production.
From the outset of the album it is clear that little has changed since the Femmes' debut nearly 20 years ago -- and this is the problem. Gordon Gano still has the same quirky, nasal voice that sang "Blister in the Sun," but it is obvious that he has just run out of ideas.
The album opens with "Hollywood is High," which contains lyrics that are worse than your average high schooler at open mic night. The album continues to the title track and it's not much better.
"Freak Magnet" picks up a little bit with track three, "Sleepwalkin'," a rock song in the vein of classic Femmes tunes. The second song worth mentioning is "All I Want," a song about girls that is very reminiscent of "Please Do Not Go." I don't know about anyone else, but it seems a little odd to me to hear a man approaching 40 singing about "hopin for your kiss / dopin cause I miss you so much." I can understand writing songs like this in the early 80s, when Gano & Co. were in their early 20s, but now that they're old enough to be most of our parents, it seems kind of pathetic. Interestingly enough, these two songs are the first two singles from the album.
The Femmes plod along, bringing the album to its lowest points yet. "In The Dark" utilizes some silly keyboard samples and programming that sound completely out of place. Maybe the band was trying to recreate the magic of using a xylophone on "Gone Daddy Gone," but all they succeed in here is creating an unlistenable song.
For some reason, the Femmes wrote a pseudo-punk song called "Mosh Pit." The riff sounds exactly like the riff for "Last Call" by Mulligan Stu, a punk band from my hometown of Rockford, Illinois. I don't know how Gordon Gano could have heard this song, but it sounds so similar that I am able to sing Mulligan Stu's words to this song. No one will accuse punk songwriters of originality, but "Mosh Pit" just sounds like it's been done a million times before.
Unfortunately, by the time "Mosh Pit" ends, the album is only halfway over. And kids, it doesn't get any better. Every song sounds like a painful rehash of their glory days. While this album isn't completely awful, it certainly doesn't change my opinion that the only Violent Femmes albums anyone needs to own are their first album and "Add It Up (1981-1993)," the Femmes best-of album.
If you've got $12 that is burning a hole in your pocket, and you feel the desire to spend it on a new Violent Femmes album, pick up "Viva Wisconsin," the Violent Femmes live acoustic album that was released late last year. It certainly won't make you forget that the Violent Femmes of the year 2000 are horrible, but it will remind you that this band was once pretty good.
...john heisel...

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