The Violent Femmes' 1983 self-titled debut is one of the most groundbreaking, important, influential, and enjoyable albums ever released, a musical testament that speaks to all dispossessed souls then, now, and probably forever. Teenagers were particularly drawn to this music in the band's early years, at least those who were fortunate enough to learn of these extraordinary three guys from Milwaukee. I will always associate my angst-filled teen years with groups such as the Violent Femmes, The Cure, and The Smiths because these guys seemed to relate to my own anxieties and frustrations in a way no one around me possibly could. This quirky, uniquely acoustic music has always spoken to those who feel set apart from those around them, who ask questions that no one else asks, and wonder why no one understands them. Over twenty years later, this album is still influencing those of us who grew up with Gordon Gano, Brian Ritchie, and Victor Delorenzo, but even more incredibly it continues to have a real impact on the next generation of young people searching for meaning in a confusing world.
The original album featured ten songs, every single one of which rates as an anthem in my book. No college party would ever have been complete without the blasting out of such tracks as Blister in the Sun, Kiss Off, or Add it Up. The true heart of the group revealed itself on songs such as Promise, Prove My Love, and Gone Daddy Gone, while Please Do Not Go took me places I had never been before. Confessions is a bravely honest song set amidst a musical backdrop of sometimes pure cacophony. Then there was Good Feeling, a beautiful, almost happy song that sounded like nothing else on the album. Two songs Gordon Gano recorded over in London, Ugly and fan favorite Gimme the Car, were soon added onto the end of the album, but the group always intended for Good Feelings to close out the album.
What a joy to discover that I and all Violent Femmes fans would be celebrating the album's twentieth birthday with the release of a very special deluxe edition. The inclusion of nine demo versions of some of the group's most classic songs is a cause for celebration in and of itself (although I should point out that one of these, Waiting For the Bus, can be found on VF's Add it Up compilation album). But the fun doesn't stop there, as you get a full CD of unreleased live performances from the guys in their earliest days (one track, Special, was issued as a flexi-disc in Alternative Press magazine, but I can't imagine many fans have that little keepsake in their VF collections). Many of the live tracks included here date back to the group's very first year of existence (1981), and the majority of them pre-date the actual recording of the debut album in July 1982. I saw these guys perform live in 1989, and they were awesome, but the truly special live recordings released here for the first time possess a feeling and atmosphere actually surpassing what I experienced first-hand. The first four live tracks, featuring a lot of interaction between the musicians and the audience, were recorded in Milwaukee in September 1981; it sounds like the guys are just playing for a group of friends, with a lot of laughter and fun spread throughout the performance. One audience member, for example, calls out "That's some sad stuff" during Country Death Song, and Gano playfully asks "Can I start now?" over the audience's voices at the beginning of Never Tell. This song, I must say, is worth the price of the album all by itself; it resonates with the type of somber power than defined and distinguished The Violent Femmes at their grittiest best. In the midst of its serious nature, though, Gano uses his voice to supply the saxophone riffs for his absent sax player, bringing the house down with laughter. The next four tracks are taken from a performance in Milwaukee in December 1981, and these are followed by five songs taken from a live gig in New York in January 1983. Never Tell, Her Television, How Do You Say Goodbye, and In Style stand out as four noteworthy songs heard here for the first time. The final two tracks come from a 1982 appearance by VF on Michael Feldman's radio program. The newly-discovered musical trio shows just how funny each of them can be during a four-minute interview before delighting the crowd with a rousing rendition of Kiss Off.
I would be remiss not to mention another cool bonus of this deluxe edition. You get a book containing a number of vintage photos, a story of the group's amazing journey from performing on the Milwaukee streets to recording their first album on borrowed funds to hitting the jackpot of success at Slash Records in 1983. There are also comments about each of the album's original ten songs by Gordon, Brian, and Victor. This deluxe edition of VF's self-titled debut reinforces and cements the group's originality, lasting influence, and musical genius, and there are so many extras included in this two-disc set that I cannot conceive of a Violent Femmes fan who has not already updated his/her musical library to include it long before now.