Why Do Birds Sing?

Nearly 10 years after the Violent Femmes launched their career by capturing Chrissie Hynde’s attention in a street gig outside a Milwaukee theater, this peculiar acoustic trio is still mining the nervous depths of pubescent alienation with their unique brand of psycho-teenage folk rock. Together, Brian Ritchie’s weird druggy lead guitar-like bass and singer Gordon Gano’s high, whiny voice and mean-natured lyrics can effectively turn even the simplest upbeat three-chord rock song into a sicko paean to adolescent angst. In Why Do Birds Sing?, for instance, the single ”American Music” cleverly twists basic sing-along rock tunes into a nightmarish take on youthful bitterness. On the Femmes’ sinister cover version of Culture Club’s ”Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” Gano characteristically changes the original implied lover’s answer from ”no” to something like ”yes…so turnabout is fair play.” The Femmes themselves may be aging, but as long as they keep their tunes catchy and their lyrics twisted, their core audience will stay the same age — 14 and frustrated — forever. B+

Why Do Birds Sing?
  • Music