Viva Wisonsin - 3.5 Stars
Freak Magnet - 2 Stars
A second look at alternative music’s hillbilly pioneers
Waaaay back in the ’80s, the Violent Femmes made being a hillbilly seem cool. Their folk-punk approach provided a musical outlet for fans of both R.E.M. and Black Flag, creating an unlikely strip of common ground. Fast-forward a decade and you find the trio soldiering on, recording a series of circa-1998 shows for what would become Viva Wisconsin, a live “greatest hits” album, then entering the studio two years later, to cut Freak Magnet.
On the live album, the Femmes sound ragged but oh-so-right, pounding their way through “Country Death Song,” “Hallowed Ground” and “Kiss Off” in perfect old-school alternative style. A few tracks—“Old Mother Reagan” and “Dahmer Is Dead”—lack pertinence with the passage of time, but overall, Viva Wisconsin serves as a true guilty pleasure. With sarcastic, solid originals like “Happiness Is” and “Hollywood Is High,” the boys try to achieve former glory on Freak Magnet, falling just short of success.