J.K. Rowling Reviews Violent Femmes’ Debut Album, Which She Just Listened to for the First Time


Big news: the following does not have anything to do with J.K. Rowling adding any new tidbits to the Harry Potter history. No, in the every-flavor-bean of possibility, the author/screenwriter has decided to test a new and unexpected bean: music reviewing.

As NME notes, Rowling recently participated in Ruth and Martin’s Album Club — a Tumblr account that sees recognized individuals listening to an iconic and/or simply good album they happen to have never heard three times, and then reviewing it. (Other recent guests were Labour MP Shabana Mahmood, journalist Hadley Freeman, and comedian Chris Addison.) J.K Rowling’s task: to cover Violent Femmes’ 1982 self-titled debut album.

Rowling first introduces herself by listing her all time three favorite albums — the first being The Beatles’ Revolver, then Broken English by Marianne Faithful, then, as the third, “changes daily. Yesterday it was White Light, White Heat by the Velvet Underground. Today it’s Hozier by Hozier.”

Rowling discusses how she’s surprised that she never got into the band — and never even heard the album. She explains that when the album was released, she was 18, and listening to the Beatles, the Smiths, and Psychedelic Furs.”I loved any band with a great guitarist,” she says. “I played guitar myself, mostly alone in my bedroom.” She did, however, have a boyfriend at the time — whose tastes jarred with her own — who she says might have played them for her.

When it came time to actually review the album, she says, she told her friend Euan of the musical challenge she was undertaking, and he “assured [her she’d] like it, but his favourite album’s by The Cramps, so that wasn’t entirely reassuring.”

She describes, on her first listen, initially being seduced by the guitar, but the moment she heard Gordon Gano’s voice, she had “an immediate, visceral response of ‘no, scratch everything, I hate this.’” She explains, “the change of mood is so abrupt my mind goes blank. I try to analyse why I moved from appreciation to intense dislike in a matter of seconds.” After a whole listen all she’d written was that his “upper register sounds like a bee in a plastic cup.”

The second listen, however, abruptly changed her mind. “This is weird,” she writes. “The vocalist is actually, um… good. Where did the bloke I heard yesterday go? Now I’m not busy hating him, I notice all the great hooks and how they sometimes sound like a manic skiffle band. There’s a nice bit of bluesy slide guitar and an actual xylophone on ‘Gone Daddy Gone.’…Today, sitting beside my kettle, [Gano’s] raw, catchy and soulful.”

She comes to a revelation later in the post about why she didn’t like his voice at first (but ended up — on the third listen, loving the album); I won’t spoil that revelation here. Head over to Ruth and Martin’s Album Club for the full piece. (It looks like Violent Femmes have read it.)