Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Violent Femmes

  • Violent Femmes [Slash, 1983] B+
  • Hallowed Ground [Slash, 1984] C+
  • Add It Up (1981-1993) [Slash/Warner Bros., 1993] A-
  • New Times [Elektra, 1994] Choice Cuts

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Violent Femmes [Slash, 1983]
If Jonathan Richman thought he was as sexy as Richard Hell, he'd come on like Gordon Gano. And if you believe Jonathan Richman damn well is as sexy as Richard Hell, which Gano is counting on, remember that what makes Jonathan's kiddie act so (shall we say) appealing is that he counts on nothing except his fingers and toes. Gano knows his stuff--the barely electric music is striking enough for rock and roll. But for all its undeniable humor and panache the effect is precious, wimp bohemianism so self-congratulatory it'll be sucking its own wee-wee next time we look. B+

Hallowed Ground [Slash, 1984]
First time out they sounded so original musically that I made it a spiritual exercise to forgive Gordon Gano his bad personality. But everything you might hum along with on the sequel was invented generations ago by better men than he. And though "Black Girls" may not be racist (or "faggot"-baiting), it takes a great deal of petulant delight in daring you to call it a name. Then again, maybe it is racist. C+

Add It Up (1981-1993) [Slash/Warner Bros., 1993]
No deep thinker and probably a jerk, Gordon Gano is the good-looking cad in a collegiate picaresque, putting himself across on feckless charm and endless libido. Most will grant the Femmes' 1983 debut its cult status and leave it at that, but the 19 titles otherwise unaccounted for on this typically irresponsible compilation suggest that they stayed young through the '80s. They get away with countless variations on the hoary "America is the home of the hypocrite"--"I Hate the TV," "Old Mother Reagan," "Lies," it goes on--and sell a lyric that begins and ends "Dance, motherfucker, dance!" They score with obscure erotic escapades like "Gimme the Car" and "Out the Window." And having rendered the titillating faux-folk gothic of "Country Death Song" and the rank jungle fever of "Black Girls" doubly offensive with bad-boy cuteness, they then somehow make them illustrate a shallow postfolkie primitivism they transcend by exploiting. Their demiacoustic sound the essence of inspired amateurism even when surrounded by horns, sitars, Jerry Harrison, Michael Beinhorn, they remain funny, sexy, sloppy, irreverent, unpredictable, and above all lively--still unconvinced they'll ever have to worry about their permanent record. A-

New Times [Elektra, 1994]
"Don't Start Me on the Liquor" Choice Cuts