Ok, so I will admit I was a bit surprised when I read this line in the official press release for a new Violent Femmes reissue: “Craft Recordings is pleased to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Violent Femmes’ Why Do Birds Sing? with a reissue of the bestselling album from the folk-punk pioneers.”
It is an innocuous enough a statement but the latter part of it gave me pause as I always assumed that their eponymously titled debut was their biggest moment in the limelight. I was very wrong.
Another informative press release paragraph is even more enlightening:
“Released in the spring of 1991, Why Do Birds Sing? pushed the Violent Femmes into their highest level of mainstream success—nearly a decade into their career. Over the next few years, the band became a must-see act at festivals like Lollapalooza and Woodstock ’94, while their videos could be seen regularly on MTV. As the group was embraced by a new generation of fans, Violent Femmes* entered the Billboard 200 for the first time since its release and was certified platinum by the RIAA.”
*(Note: their self titled debut album from 1983…)
Who knew? Not me, clearly and perhaps a few of you, Dear Readers.
I always liked Why Do Birds Sing? not only for its immediately likable anthem “American Music” —which hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Modern Rock charts around that time — and their terrific reinvention of Culture Club’s classic ‘80s hit “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” I also liked this recording because it felt more like what their sophomore album probably should have been. I won’t go into Hallowed Ground’s strengths and weaknesses (you can read about it on the wiki) but it may have not been the ideal second album coming after the strength of that amazing debut. The third album The Blind Leading the Naked was good too but a very different affair, produced by Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison and delivering a more traditional band feel instead of the stripped down acoustic punk folk trio most of us loved at the beginning.
So, after some time in the musical wilderness, fans were clearly happy with the so called “return to form” of Why Do Birds Sing? and because of this it holds up very well as an end-to-end listen.
Coinciding with the band’s 40th anniversary, Craft Recordings has reissued Why Do Birds Sing? for (as far as I can tell) the first time on vinyl in the United States — there were LP pressings in 1991 in Europe and Australia according to the record collecting marketplace website Discogs).
The new Craft Recordings’ pressing of Why Do Birds Sing? is excellent. It is manufactured on thick dark black 180-gram vinyl that is well centered and quiet. The music sounds great there. No complaints.
There is a two disc CD version of the album which includes previously unreleased alternates and outtakes as well as a complete concert from 1991 (recorded at The Boathouse in Norfolk, VA).
You can find the deluxe edition of Why Do Birds Sing? streaming in CD quality on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal (click here). Both sound real good. The live recording is especially revealing as you can hear the audience which was clearly and passionately in sync with the band, singing along loudly to the introduction of “Add It Up.” Its a fun show!
And for all its undercurrent of seriousness, fun is ultimately one of the key calling cards of The Violent Femmes music. And with these new more deluxe and expanded editions of Why Do Birds Sing? it is a great time to be reminded why you fell in love with this band in the first place.