New Times is an entirely appropriate title for this most eclectic of albums from a most eclectic band. The Violent Femmes have changed quite visibly with the exit of Victor DeLorenzo and the entrance of Guy Hoffman on drums. I'll admit it took a few listens for this CD to really start appealing to me. There is a lot of experimental stuff going on here, with individual songs sometimes going off in about three distinct directions over the course of four or five minutes. The overall sound is markedly different in several places from what the Violent Femmes had done up to this point, with drums and deep bass beats often giving rise to a substantive, weighty atmosphere of surrealism and implicit melancholia. The guys have long played around with unique musical jam sessions of high strangeness, but they really indulge themselves on New Times. A number of instruments I haven't even heard of (e.g., noseflute, tranceaphone, theremin, baglama) figure large in the music. Several songs end with extended periods of cacophonous orgies of sound, but the most unusual of all selections is the song Machine. Here, Gano recites unusual lyrics about building a machine to take over the world while something akin to electronic synthesizers pushes the song along; much more than throwaway experimentation, Machine does offer a serious message roiling around in its deep undercurrents of frustration. Agamemnon is another unusual song, ending with Gano literally shouting in the background.
There really are some great songs included on this CD. Don't Start Me on the Liquor is a typically fun Violent Femmes opening number. New Times, Breakin' Up, and 4 Seasons have a modernized yet vintage Femmes sound to them. I'm Nothin' is spectacular, foregoing everything except Gano's voice and guitar in its presentation. When Everybody's Happy reminds me to some degree of Good Feelings from the band's first album; of course, there is a melancholy aspect to this "happy" song on Gano's part. The final three tracks are the best on the album, in my opinion. I especially love Mirror Mirror (I See a Damsel), which evokes a pretty tender message, at least the way I understand it, while really putting the band through the paces. There is both a folk music and polka feel to this one, and the energy and tempo of the song steadily increase as the track speeds its way along toward a frenetic release. Jesus of Rio seems to feature at least three entirely different styles of music and rhythm, making it a quite memorable way in which to conclude this unusual yet somehow compelling album.