Exotically Formal Femmes
Smoskalis | America | 12/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What a great album. Opens with the notorious "American Music", ends with the country inspired gem "I'm Free", and in between exhibits a vibrant variety of music, using elements of Pop, Folk, Country, Rock and Punk to generate a sort of "undressed new wave sound" that only the Violent Femmes could have the ingenuity to create. As with every Femmes album, "Why Do Birds Sing?" puts an interesting spin on the established Femmes sound. Keyboards and Organs play a previously nonresident role, and many instruments are introduced into the Femmes' musical vocabulary. Ukeleles, Conga Drums, Tambourines, Jaw Harps, Mellotrons, and drummer Victor Delorenzo's own invention, the "Tranceaphone" are among the interesting tools used to create the album. Though do not be fooled by the seemingly odd choice of instrumentation, the Violent Femmes are anything but some obscure emotionless act. Their unique sonances blend with accustomed Rock melodies to develop a very natural and pure sound, creating songs of exclusive charm.Gordon Gano, Singer/Guitarist, presents beautifully ambigious songwriting in a class of its own. The reason Femmes songs are loved so dearly by so many different types of people, is that they represent that which we can all relate to; the inevitable clash of venerating, joyous innocence, with dark, dolorous truths which will always haunt our psyche. Harsh realities affect our emotions in a way that nothing else can, and Gordon uses humour to deliver recollections of these disturbingly honest moments we all share. Using humour to describe sorrow, two emotions in such contrast to one another, harnesses a wide range of emotions, all meeting together at one moment; the end result being unsure of whether you should laugh, be confused, angry, or simply break down and cry. These moments of such emotionally plenary uncertainty strike us all in the same way, in the sense that we are all struck in different ways. So quite naturally, it is of impeccable appropriateness that "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" is covered on this album, a song dealing with these exact issues, seemingly written for Gordon's writing style.While I favor some songs over others, all are interesting in their own way. "Used To Be", perhaps my favorite track on the album, is sad to the point where hopelessness becomes beautiful. I love how well Victor's double snare fits the song, and the tone is Gordon's voice is in magical correspondance to the lyrics. The first 2 tracks, "American Music" and "Out The Window", both found on the "Add it Up" album, are classics. As the chorus of "American Music" sings, "Every time I look at that ugly lake it reminds of me." Brilliant line. Looking at a lake will show you your reflection, and if the lake is ugly and it reminds him of him, well, you get the idea. Gordon always amazes me with using such unique ways to bring up common ideas we all share. We can all relate to "Look Like That", or "Girl Trouble". The witty "Lack Of Knowledge" is a Punk Rock inspired tune about intelligence and confusion. It's impossible to not enjoy Gordon's clever anthem of revenge "More Money Tonight".Femmes fans who don't already own "Why Do Birds Sing?" must buy this majestic masterpiece for their own sake, as the benefits of this purchase extend far beyond the material world. As good as this album is, it is not the ideal place to start for listeners who haven't heard, or are new to the Violent Femmes. Acquire "Violent Femmes - Deluxe Edition", the highly distinguished self-titled album, first. I definitely recommend the Deluxe Edition as it contains a bonus disc that will reveal to you a whole nother aspect of their genius - the live act. Though the album "Viva Wiconsin" is definitely the ultimate document of the Femmes live, the bonus live disc is an interesting chronicle that you will thank yourself for later."
It's a shame these guys aren't huge...
David M. Elliott | Lovely Nebraska | 06/12/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"...considering the quality of the music they have shared with the world throughout the last 21 years or so.
While not as urgent and raw as their masterpiece first album, Why Do Birds Sing? is their second best. I picked this up in June of 1991, after having heard their first album a few times while in high school a few years earlier and forgetting about them. What sold me on this album was the cover...for some reason, it was (and still is) one of my favorite album covers of all time.
Of course, after unwrapping the cassette and popping it in, I realized it was much more than a nice package. "American Music" should have become an American anthem that summer (a summer when "Right Here, Right Now" by Jesus Jones just wouldn't go away), and "Out the Window" is very catchy (as well as disturbingly funny).
One of my favorite tracks, and still one of the greatest cover tunes of all time, is the Femmes' remake of "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" Gordan Gano changes the lyrics up a bit and makes it an achy, bittersweet tune, as opposed to the keyboarded stiffness of the original.
The addition of strings makes "Used to Be" a little overproduced sounding, but it's a depressing song and the brushed snare drum (one of the Femmes' signature sounds) help make it work. Allow yourself into it for a lovely, melancholy few minutes.
The album closes with "I'm Free," a sweet little ode to Gordan's own life. Almost a country song, it's a great way to finish the album.
Overall, it's a great, great album, and it's shameful that it was so overlooked. Gordan Gano's amazing ability to sound both geniunely sad and geniunely insane at the same time is one of their unique characteristics, and the multi-talented Brian Ritchie brings all sorts of new and fresh musical expressions. As I mentioned earlier, this is their second best, behind their first, quintessential, self-titled album. If you consider yourself a Violent Femmes fan, or you've never heard anything by them, then this is a must have."