October 13, 2022

Violent Femmes - Why Do Birds Sing? (1991)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Country
Label Number: 9 26476-2

© 1991 Slash/Reprise Records
With their 1983 debut, the Violent Femmes got the ball rolling for what would become alternative rock, using acoustic instruments to deliver an unexpectedly raw blend of punk angst and catchy-if-neurotic songwriting. The band's subsequent '80s albums were a mixed bag, yielding occasional highlights but not quite gelling into anything as consistently powerful as the first album. Released in 1991, fifth album Why Do Birds Sing? was something of a return to form, if only in terms of having song after song of the kind of weirdly fractured folk pop that represented the band at their most accessible. Upbeat and straightforward album-opener "American Music" is somewhere between campfire song and pop masterpiece, with subtle production details like sleighbells and sparingly used organ runs growing along with the song's steady build. More blatant stabs at pop come with a snarling cover of Culture Club's hit "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," the inverted girl group appropriation of "Look Like That," and the driving college rock of "Used to Be." The band's penchant for sardonic and juvenile humor remains intact on the faux-blues stomp of "Girl Trouble" (vocalist Gordon Gano returning to the refrain "Have mercy on me, I've got girl trouble up the ass!") and the shadowy clunk of "Make More Money," a bitter revenge story of the tormented high school nerd becoming a rich rock star. When Why Do Birds Sing? was first released, the Violent Femmes were already a decade into their career, enjoying cult success but still living mostly in the shadow of their debut. The album would be one of their most commercially successful up until that point, despite some critics finding it disjointed and a little too all-over-the-place stylistically. Removed from the time it originally arrived in, Why Do Birds Sing? feels more solid, with its lesser moments strung together by some of the best songs the band ever penned, and production that makes space for both the Femmes' anxious demeanor and their not-so-secret love of big, dumb pop songs.

tags: violent femmes, why do birds sing, 1991, flac,

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