Gordon Gano: Hitting the Ground (Instinct)

A tribute album without the hits The first Violent Femmes album achieved the ultimate catch-22 of being a defining album for a generation and making everything they ever released after that seem a shallow attempt to recapture that magic. I know, there were many albums after that first that were great, but the general public yearned for nothing more than “Blister in the Sun.”

So, Femmes’ frontman Gordon Gano had this whole album ready and decided that it was time to try something different, open his songs up to different voices. Hitting the Ground is a tribute album without the hits. Not to say that the album is bad, but it certainly has its high and low points. As with many albums containing a group of people who would normally not be caught on the same continent together, there is some disparity, and that causes the album to suffer a bit. However, there are several standout performances.

My two favorites come from Lou Reed and John Cale. The former VU mates capture what is best about Gano’s music: simple performances that play up the performer’s quirkier vocal abilities (in Reed’s case) or playing style (Cale’s beautiful piano work). Both men showcase Gano’s lyrics, which is precisely what an album like this should do. PJ Harvey, whose vocal stylings sometimes echoes Gano’s, delivers a blistering performance on the title track. Her performance outdoes Gano’s own performance of the song 10 tracks later.

Missteps include Frank Black’s version of “Run” (is he impersonating Gano or the devil?) and They Might Be Giants on “Darlin’ Allison.” Both tend to deviate far from the flow of the album and add to the disparity. On a whole, Hitting the Ground is good, but it certainly isn’t Violent Femmes.

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