It took 16 years for Violent Femmes’ latest proper full-length, We Can Do Anything, to materialize, but those who found themselves let down by their hit-and-miss attempts to expand the territory of Gordon Gano’s self- deprecating lyricism since the ’90s will appreciate the wait all the more. This new record might be their best since they began, a genuinely surprising departure from everything they’ve done up to this point.
Let’s not waste any time and just shamelessly trot out the clichés right now: at this point in a review of a post-’80s Violent Femmes record, the reviewer would remind readers that the Femmes once put out such anthemic classics of college radio as “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off,” and “Add it Up;” and yes, all that was great rock ‘n’ roll, and we remember. It’s as though, for many, these guys never did anything else.
And this might be on account of how, as far back as 1991’s Why Do Birds Sing?, their albums have seemed to mostly just be collections of songs: the same basic materials for an album assembled without much ado, without much to distinguish them. Moreover, neither have they seemed to show much of their true selves beyond the snotty, anxious kids who broke through way back when, and surely there’s more to these guys than all that? This is where We Can Do Anything comes in.
Gone from this new album are the half-joking threats, the songs shit-talking bullies and failed flings; what’s seen here has seen some of the worst the world can dish out for real and has more to say about it than that it sucks. Love and travel are not necessarily going to fix your shambled life. We think that we can do everything as kids, only to see how boring life really can be in the end. There’s an inimitable charm to Gano’s nasally snarl carrying these middle-aged gripes. To say the least, it’s an honest, spirited record from a band that unfairly got labelled a one-hit wonder. There’s even something like a lovelorn country classic in “What You Really Mean,” a cover penned by Gano’s older sister Cynthia Gayneau. I say this in all honesty: We Can Do Anything is the real follow-up they’ve had in the works all along. You owe it to yourself check this out ASAP if you love punk rock and “indie rock,” whatever that is.