Add It Up: Craft Recordings Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Violent Femmes’ Seminal Self-Titled 1983 Debut With Limited-Edition Box Set Featuring 180g AAA Version of Original LP, Two LPs of Demos and Of-Era Live Material, and a 45 to Boot

Craft Recordings’ new four-disc 40th anniversary deluxe edition box set celebrating the timeless, self-titled April 1983 debut LP from Violent Femmes, Milwaukee’s pioneering folk-punk trio, has as its centerpiece an AAA version of the original LP along with one additional LP full of demos and another LP with choice of-era live material, plus a bonus 7-inch single. The Violent Femmes box set is a well-intended, loving time capsule collection documenting a moment when a determined young band pretty much put everything on the line to make a professional, original musical statement.

Before we start digging down into the nitty-gritties of this ultimately compelling box set that will be released on March 1, let’s recap some of the core stats underlying its making. From the official press release, we learn, “Craft Recordings is thrilled to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Violent Femmes’ 1983 self-titled debut with a special reissue of the seminal cult classic. . . . Housed in a lift-top box with die-cut window detail, this collectible edition offers three 180-gram LPs — the original album, alongside the demos, and live material — plus, a replica 7-inch single (“Ugly”/“Gimme the Car”). The original album and single discs are cut from the original analog tapes, while lacquers for the complete set were cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio.”


On the back cover of the box set, we learn it was manufactured in the Czech Republic, and our label contacts at Craft directly confirmed it to have been made at GZ. This special, 5,000-copy limited-edition box set carries an SRP of $124.99, and its official release date, as noted above, is March 1, 2024. (You can pre-order the Violent Femmes box set via the Music Direct graphic/link at the end of our review.)

Looking more closely at the included liner notes — which contains a detailed essay by David Fricke and contributions from all three original bandmembers — we find that, somewhat buried in the back of the otherwise lovely 40-page booklet, we can clarify some of these details with a level of certainty beyond what’s on the hype sticker on the shrink wrap (as shown below),The main Violent Femmes album (LP1) and the 45rpm single lacquers were indeed mastered from the original analog tapes in the AAA process. However, lacquers for the demos (LP2) and live recordings (LP3) seem to have been cut from digital transfers of the original tapes. In fact, most of these demos and live tracks were previously issued on an earlier, 2002 Violent Femmes 2CD set from Slash/Rhino, hence their digitally inclined origins. But, as far as we can tell, this is the first time these recordings have appeared on vinyl, so keep that in mind as you consider this box set for your collection.


As far as the original 1983 album itself goes, Violent Femmes is a classic, near-undefinable, infectious slab of post-new-wave, post-punk, post-singer/songwriter acoustic-folk-flavored frolicking freneticism. It is a recording that has proven ultimately timeless, as its music feels as impactful today as it was 40 years ago. Lead singer Gordon Gano’s yelping voice at times recalls a younger Lou Reed — albeit with an at times hilariously, snarky, informed, streetwise edge that remains endlessly appealing.

Violent Femmes were effectively a sneering, intellectual-leaning punk-leaning rock band, with the gritty spirit of ’50s beat poets playing mostly on acoustic instruments. This is music you could hear in a small club without going completely deaf from ear-bleed-loud buzzsaw guitars, allowing you to fully appreciate main songwriter Gano’s fantastic storytelling, as his lyrics are as smart and witty as they are angry.

Going back to the official press release, we learn some more important details about how the album was made. “In July 1982, Violent Femmes headed to a Lake Geneva studio and cut their debut album’s 10 songs in just a week, funding the sessions with a $10,000 emergency loan co-signed by [drummer Victor] DeLorenzo’s father. Produced by Mark Van Hecke, Violent Femmes mostly consists of the band’s first takes, and centers on a raw and potent sound augmented by their idiosyncratic instrumentation ([Brian] Ritchie favored an acoustic, mariachi-style bass, while DeLorenzo’s minimalistic drum kit included an upside-down metal tub). ‘We were using tape, which was expensive, and paying for this record ourselves,’ Ritchie says today. ‘We might have a few false starts. We’d get a take, then say, ‘That sounds pretty good, let’s try a few more.’”


As a group, Violent Femmes hold a potential curious appeal from an audiophile perspective, given their featured instrumentation here is mostly unplugged and acoustic. Here, we have Brian Ritchie’s lyrical, plunky-sounding acoustic bass — essentially a new thing to hear on a mainstream American pop record at that time of this release — and Gano’s strummy acoustic steel-string guitar (and occasional wiry/jangly Stratocaster-fueled plugged-in moments). Coupled with DeLorenzo’s novel, spartan rockabilly-flavored stripped-down drum kit, the three-man band’s debut album found a perfect balance of simple music that elevated its darkly rich storytelling.

The vinyl pressings contained in the Violent Femmes box set are quite good — thick, dark black, generally quiet, and well-centered 180g discs. No problems on that front. But, at this point, you are probably wondering, just how good do these LPs actually sound? The short answer ranges from, well, very good to just okay.

To be clear — the new AAA 180g version of Violent Femmes itself (LP1) certainly sounds a bit cleaner and more balanced than my original 1983-era Slash LP. Indeed, one of the things I noticed as I was relistening to Violent Femmes for the first time in several years was how i>fresh the album still feels. From the angst of “Blister in the Sun” (Side One, Track 1) to the angry tick of “Add It Up” (Side One, Track 4) on through to the spooky-moody danceable doom of “Gone Daddy Gone / I Just Want to Make Love to You” (Side Two, Track 4), the whole album listen remains vibrant, intense, and even fun from start to finish.

It is, however, important to acknowledge that the Violent Femmes debut album always had its own distinctive sonic feel that ranged from bright to boxy, depending on your perspective — and how the musicians were playing. For example, I noticed on one track that Ritchie had moved his fretboard fingering up higher on his acoustic bass, that — while cool and fun, musicality-wise — makes the low-end of the song basically disappear for a moment until he gets back down to the lower end again.

And so it goes on these recordings. Listeners should thus take note that, as good as the main debut album is, production-wise, it is far from the lush vistas of Abbey Road-crafted audiophile classics. This is the opposite of that. Violent Femmes is not quite a so-called lo-fi release per se, but it does approach that realm at times, and in a way pre-echoes the overall indie-spirit vibe that followed it.


For me, the most endearing part of this set beyond the main studio LP can be found in the live recordings on LP3. Captured at two small clubs in Wisconsin and another in New York City, these live tapes present a fascinating snapshot of the band in two distinct phases of its career — local favorite and fast-rising national buzz-band sweethearts. That said, the audio quality varies greatly on these effectively authorized bootleg-type recordings.

The Live At The Jazz Gallery, Milwaukee, WI (12/8/1981) material (Side Five, Tracks 4-5, and Side Six, Tracks 1-2) is probably a little better-sounding than the Beneath-It-All Café, Milwaukee, WI (9/12/1981) cuts are (Side Five, Tracks 1-4), but both are fine as impromptu audience recordings go. As far as the recording quality goes, while not bad, they do represent one of those “It is what it is” type scenarios. The vocals on these somewhat ambient recordings are not exactly super-upfront, but they’re certainly audible and ultimately very enjoyable.

Meanwhile, Live At Folk City, New York (1/26/1983) (Side Six, Tracks 3-7) is probably more like a soundboard recording, or at least one made using microphones that were set up very near the stage, in turn capturing more of a “monitor mix” flavor on tape. The vocals are more upfront than the rest of the instrumentation. It’s also a very different sound, as Gano is playing electric guitar here — ironically enough, at a club called Folk City — yet the music is still stripped back enough to feel like nearly like an unplugged session, even though it isn’t. The band is tight, and you can hear just how much they progressed in just a year. For example, listen how the band members trade some pretty ripping solos on “Gone Daddy Gone / I Just Want to Make Love to You” (Side Six, Track 4).

Of all the music that is in this box set, Demos (LP2) is the most disappointing, sonics-wise, as it’s the LP that sounds the most harsh. It is probably a combination of the way in which these original demo recordings were made and how they were mastered for this release, but something feels at time extra crunchy here, making the Demos LP a bit harder for me to enjoy. I do understand these are warts-and-all demos, of course, but I’m hearing something else that feels to me like it could be a digital mastering issue (but I am, admittedly, guessing about that). For example, “Girl Trouble” (Side Three, Track 1) sounded like there was possibly too much EQ or another effect/production technique applied to it, while the following cut, “Breaking Up” (Side Three, Track 2), was more enjoyable. Also keep in mind that the sound here is quite variable from demo to demo.


Overall, the packaging for the Violent Femmes box set is exemplary — especially the nifty die-cut outer box that lets to you see the band through the window the little girl is peering into — but I do have some collector’s nits to pick. For starters, the main album came packed very tightly in its inner sleeve, which took quite a bit of careful effort to remove, especially without scratching it. It was kind of stuck at the bottom, really. And when I did get it out, there was a bit of paper dust on the disc, which had likely accumulated in shipping (probably from tearing the edge of the sleeve). My advice — and that of AP editor Mike Mettler as well, who also experienced the exact same issue with his own copy of LP1 and its inner sleeve — is to proceed with caution when unpacking this particular disc for the first time!

Curiously, LP2 and LP3 both come housed in audiophile-grade plastic lined white inner sleeves. It would have been wiser if the main album’s repro-printed inner sleeve had been included as an insert with LP1, effectively, and instead included the physical disc in one of those other plastic-lined sleeves.

I also found it curious that LP1 didn’t reproduce the look/feel of the original Slash Records label from 1983 (as shown below). Instead, it bears a Craft Recordings logo on a beige background (which, as Mettler notes, is similar to how it was done with Craft’s single-disc 35th anniversary reissue in 2018 and the 2023 Record Store Day repress, both of which leave out the Slash logo and have a different, and, also according to Mettler, not as good/fulfilling of a mix as the AAA version in this box set is).


Adding to this frustration is the reality that the bonus 45 (“Ugly” b/w “Gimme the Car”) reproduced the split black/beige design with the pink Violent Femmes text that was found on the original album’s label! Both the live and demo LPs feature black-and-white split designs, variants that echo the original. These are all admittedly nit-picky label-oriented details, but given the hefty price of entry for this box set, this is the kind of stuff we collectors look for.

As far as the numeric ratings for the Violent Femmes box set go, we’ve given it a 6.5 overall, given that roughly two-thirds of the collection is made from lower-fidelity archival sources (though note that the volume-knob graphic at the top of the review may only show this rating as a 6). That said, the actual studio album on LP1 — again, AAA, and mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio — sounds quite good, and warmer than even my original 1983-era pressing. On its own, LP1 warrants an 8.5 or 9 rating. The Music rating for LP1 is a 10 all the way — but, added up and averaged with the demos, live material, and the 45, the overall Music rating for the box set inclusive comes in at a 9.


With all that in mind, if you are a serious fan of Violent Femmes as a band, you will probably want this collection so you can get as much of their initial groundbreaking era as you can on officially released vinyl. And if you’re really hungry to have an AAA version of the original LP in hand, buying this box set might not actually be that bad a path to take for the right here, right now.

How come? Consider that clean, top-condition original pressings of the 1983 Slash album have become quite collectible, as punk-leaning vinyl can be very pricey these days in general. The three original U.S. pressings listed as being in NM condition on Discogs at the time of this posting are selling from about $65 to $170, so for the price of this box set, you’ll get a more-than-fine sounding AAA Kevin Gray-remastered Violent Femmes LP plus all the additional demos and live goodies on the other two discs, and the bonus 45 to boot.

And that, to us, sounds like a solid investment — at least until the Violent Femmes 50th anniversary vinyl edition box set extravaganza comes along a decade from now, that is.

Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.

Music Direct Buy It Now



180g 3LP + 7-inch 45 (Craft Recordings)

LP1: Violent Femmes

Side One
1. Blister In The Sun
2. Kiss Off
3. Please Do Not Go
4. Add It Up
5. Confessions

Side Two
1. Prove My Love
2. Promise
3. To The Kill
4. Gone Daddy Gone / I Just Want To Make Love To You
5. Good Feeling

LP2: Demos

Side Three
1. Girl Trouble
2. Breakin’ Up
3. Waiting For The Bus
4. Blister In The Sun
5. Kiss Off

Side Four
1. Please Do Not Go
2. Add It Up
3. Confessions
4. Prove My Love

LP3: Live

Side Five
1. Special
2. Country Death Song
3. To The Kill
4. Never Tell
5. Break Song
6. Her Television

[Note : Tracks 1-4, Live At Beneath-It-All Café, Milwaukee, WI – 9/12/1981; Tracks 5-6, Live At The Jazz Gallery, Milwaukee, WI – 12/8/1981]

Side Six
1. How Do You Say Goodbye
2. Theme And Variations
3. Prove My Love
4. Gone Daddy Gone / I Just Want To Make Love To You
5. Promise
6. In Style
7. Add It Up

[Note : Tracks 1-2, Live At The Jazz Gallery, Milwaukee, WI – 12/8/1981; Tracks 3-7, Live At Folk City, New York, NY – 1/26/1983]

7-Inch Single

Side One
1. Ugly

Side Two
1. Gimme The Car


rl1856's picture

Violent Femmes 1st album was part of my college soundtrack. I can hear the album playing in my head as I read this review. "Why can't I get just one kiss......" Goosebumps and nostalgia can be intoxicating. However, with a level head, I wonder if the clarity of a new AAA remaster will take away some of the lo-fi grunge that was part of their unique sound. And their sound was unique....Born in the USA this ain't.

Mike Mettler's picture
Not to worry, rl1856 -- the AAA Violent Femmes does not diminish the original lo-fi charm of what you heard (and may still hear) on/with the original 1983 Slash LP at all. In this particular case, clarity does not mean clean 'n' scrubbed.

This was also a big college-era album for me as well. My original 1983 LP was, shall we say, "sacrificed" for recurrent spinning at various weekend group-gatherings (read: parties) circa 1986-87 wherein much dancing ensued, as well as the requisite singing/verbalizing-cum-shouting, a la "...eight, eight, I forget what eight was for..."

It was also a) one of those surefire LPs loved equally by the male and female contingents alike, and b) one of the few LPs of that era where you could play entire album sides without anyone leaving the dancefloor.

The other two LPs that held a similar full-album-side sway at that time that immediately come to mind were Peter Gabriel's So and Robert Palmer's Riptide.

rl1856's picture

The constant rotation in our Fraternity house was Bryan Adams Cuts Like Knife, REM Murmur and Reckoning, B52s first album, Prince 1999, Echo and The Bunnymen...and the 'Femmes. Nostalgia indeed. And you are correct about the Femmes; both genders enjoyed the LP.

Mike Mettler's picture
Ah yes, 1999 was another favorite in our house dance/party spinnings back in the day too -- interestingly, more than Purple Rain was, for whatever reason. I'm also partial to Sign o' the Times, but that 2LP set needed more "side jumping," so to speak, if memory serves.

This also reminds me that Cameo's "Word Up!" was another of-era party favorite -- albeit just the 12-inch single version, not the related album itself.