Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Violent Femmes - Hallowed Ground


After the surprise success of their landmark debut, Violent Femmes could have just released another collection of teen-rage punk songs disguised as folk, and coasted into the modern rock spotlight alongside contemporaries like the Modern Lovers and Talking Heads. Instead they made Hallowed Ground, a hellfire-and-brimstone-beaten exorcism that both enraged and enthralled critics and fans alike. Like Roger Waters purging himself of the memories of his father's death through The Wall and The Final Cut, bandleader Gordon Gano uses the record to expel his love/hate relationship with religion, and the results are alternately breathtaking and terrifying. Contrary to initial public response, Hallowed Ground is not a parody. Gano, the son of a Baptist minister, may wear his faith like a badge of honor, but it's a badge, not a shield, and what keeps the songs so volatile is the fact that they're filtered through the eyes, ears, heart, and loins of a teenager. Like the first record, all of the songs on Hallowed Ground were written during Gano's high-school years -- he was barely in his twenties when it was released -- resulting in a perfect rendering of the sweetness and brutality of the postpubescent teen, especially on the album's centerpiece; a searing indictment of loyalties broken and the snitches that break them, "Never Tell" is the perfect balm for the bloody righteousness of youth, and when Gano screams, "I'll stand right up in the heart of Hell/I never tell," it's hard not to stand right beside him. Christian imagery aside, Hallowed Ground is not as polarizing as some make it out to be. The band explores gothic Appalachian folk and child murder on the banjo-fueled "Country Death Song," bawdy and bluesy Lou Reed-inflected infatuation on "Sweet Misery Blues," and nuclear holocaust on the brooding title track, leaving little doubt that this is the same band that penned underground classics like "Gone Daddy Gone" and "Add It Up." Even the decidedly politically uncorrect "Black Girls," with its free jazz mid-section that includes everything from jaw harp to the screaming alto sax of John Zorn and the Horns of Dilemma, is full of the same smirk and swagger that made "Blister in the Sun" the soundtrack to so many people's halcyon days. The Femmes are nothing if not true to themselves, and Hallowed Ground is a testament to their tenacity, courage, and sheer obliviousness to industry ogling. Each track is as naked as it is bursting with ideas, and as the landscape changes, the band changes with it, leaving the listener at a crossroads; with each incantation, growling invective, and honey-whispered promise, they're forced to either jump off the gospel train or ride it along with them into the mouth of Hell. [from AMG]


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10 comments:

Chris said...

I love this album.

Punk Rock Daddy said...

same here bro, same here

justin said...

Such a good write up for such a good band and album. Takes me right back to college in the late 80's and while the first album was my introduction this one just blew me a way. "Well I'm thinkg and I'm thinking till there's nothing I ain't thunk, breathin in the stink till finally I stunk". Great post, Great blog.

Anonymous said...

I kinda have been expecting this in a way...
But I reali dun think da world is going to end...start a new era maybe but the world is not ending.
That's not gonna happen till a thousand years later! Ok, I'm not sure bout that either but that's not the point! The world's not gonna end! Full stop!
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Anonymous said...

A friend of mine mentioned 2012 last night to me and it's the first I heard about it so I jumped on here out of curiosity. I think it's kind of sick and sounds like a bunch of skeptical jargon.
I choose to live every day like it is the last because let's be real, WHO THE HELL KNOWS what is going to happen or when it's your time to go on. The past is history, the future is a mystery and now is a gift, thats why it's called the present. It's not healthy to sit around and trip out about when you will die. Stop wasting your time you have now.
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]mayan predicted
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Diana Diaz said...

Nothing beats a Violent Femmes Jesus song. This is one of my favorite albums of all time. I will wax more rhapsodic at some point for my own column on Examiner.com. They've never shied away from delving into the depths of the human soul in all its beauty and brutality.

The title track is truly beautiful. I don't know how Gano does it, but he makes my worst dates and acquaintances seem funny. I mean, why do I laugh so hard at "Sweet Misery Blues" in which has a God-awful pickup line and depicts a man stalking a woman. I must be sick, too. We're all a little sick.

able905 said...

Do teenagers get albums like this anymore?...i sure hope so.
I got this "tape" for Christmas 1987, I was 14 years old,and I remember listening to it on my walkman in bed that night and becoming alternately attracted and repulsed to this album.It stretched my young mind to its limits and every track left me wondering about this band?...where they crazy?...where they Christians?..were they Gay?
Every track is a hormone-fueled journey into the dirty depths of the American psyche....I can still recapture the lust, rage, and above all, the confusion of adolescence by listening to this fucking masterpiece; many thanks for the post.