It's sure been a mighty long time since 1994. That year, you'll recall, O.J. Simpson was suspected of murdering his ex-wife and was arrested. A major earthquake killed 51 in California. South Africa held its first multiracial national democratic election. And, oh yes, the Violent Femmes put out New Times, their most recent album of new material. Six years later, while O.J. is free to continue his search for the real killer, Violent Femmes singer/guitarist Gordon Gano remains locked in his own private Ida-hell.
As if he's never left, Freak Magnet finds Gano, with the ever-able support of bandmates Brian Ritchie (bass) and Guy Hoffman (drums), continuing his apparent life mission: to kvetch and bitch incessantly about everything on earth. At least he's still urgent in his delivery though one wonders why it took so long to come up with 45 minutes of new material.
The opening track, "Hollywood Is High" (RealAudio excerpt), has a pogo-inducing beat punctuated by Gano's signature nasal whine and deadpan black humor. "I don't wanna have fun/ Fun always lets me down," he confesses. "Hollywood is high/ Sunset's low/ Do not ask why/ The 'Thomas Guide' says so." "All I Want" (RealAudio excerpt) is a plaintive love song that finds Gano (surprise!) all tied up in emotional knots.
Still, lurking behind some of his lyrics is that always unattractive preachiness that periodically bashes you over the head. Gano's evangelical streak comes to the forefront on "Rejoice and Be Happy" (RealAudio excerpt), a modern-day hymn with references to the savior, the righteous, the kingdom and the prophets. Directly following this peppy ode is "Mosh Pit," and one assumes that Jesus will not be amused by its (admittedly infectious) refrain: "Mosh pit, mosh pit/ Squash it, squash it/ Eat shit, eat shit." Then again, as Gano notes on "I'm Bad," "I'm bad when I am sober/ I'm badder when I'm high ... I'm bad to myself/ So I'll be bad to you." As they say: confession is good for the soul even if it hurts someone else.
Of course, part of the unique, er, charm of the Violent Femmes has always been the musical playing out of that old back-and-forth battle between the devil and Jaysus, wrasslin' for Gordon Gano's itty bitty spirit. So praise the Lord and pass the popcorn, friends. It's continuing to be a long, messy bout.