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The textbook American cult band of the ‘80s, Violent Femmes captured the essence of teen angst with remarkable precision; raw and jittery, the trio’s music found little commercial success but nonetheless emerged as the soundtrack for the lives of troubled adolescents the world over. Their self-titled 1983 debut was a blueprint for legions of sardonic alternative rockers that would follow, and they continued their blend of searing, darkly humorous lyrics and sharp-edged folk-rock on other standout albums like 1991’s Why Do Birds Sing.
Violent Femmes formed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the early ‘80s, made up of singer/guitarist Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie, and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo. After being discovered by the Pretenders’ James Honeyman-Scott while they were busking on the street, the band signed to Slash and issued their self-titled debut, a melodic folk-punk collection which struck an obvious chord with young listeners who felt a strong connection to bitter, frustrated songs like “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off” and “Add It Up.” Though never a chart hit, the album remained a rite of passage for succeeding generations of teen outsiders, and after close to a decade after release, it finally achieved platinum status.
40 years on, Violent Femmes’ legacy remains strong, while their influence can be heard across multiple genres—from the anti-folk movement of the early 2000s to the chart-topping hits of Barenaked Ladies, and the indie-pop of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. In 2014, Popmatters declared that the folk-punk pioneers “may have very quietly been one of the most important rock bands of the 1980s, if not the past quarter-century…[They] celebrated the simplicity of pop music from the fringes, attacking convention with a mix of humour and violence.” Pitchfork argued that “The Femmes don’t signify an era so much as a time of life,” adding that “for young people growing up in the internet age” their music “is part of a shared language.”
Out the Window
Look Like That
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me
Hey Nonny Nonny
Used to Be
He Likes Me
Life is a Scream
Lack of Knowledge
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