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Punk to rock
The Distillers make their mainstream move

Itís just a bunch of metaphors," Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle insisted about the lyrics on the LA alterna-rock bandís current Coral Fang (Warner Bros.), in a recent Yahoo! interview. "I didnít really want to be obvious on this record, so itís just a bunch of words strung together." Of course: nobody wants to be obvious about getting divorced, as Dalle and Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong did last year. But thereís no way to sugarcoat the situation, so itís no surprise that the metaphors on the Distillers hit "Drain the Blood" are as juicy as they come. "Thereís never been a better time than this/To bite the hand of frostbitten eminence," she screams before the second chorus. Given that Armstrong helped set Dalle up with her first recording contract soon after they got married, itís a jarring image. The chorus is more pogo-friendly than abrasive, full of oohs and ahhs that take the sting out of her words. But one line ó "All these fiends want teenage meat" ó cuts deep, especially in light of Dalleís age (18) on her wedding day and the recent fling between teen celeb Kelly Osbourne and Armstrongís Transplants mate Rob Aston.

Itís been a year since Dalle announced the break-up of her marriage to the nation by making out with her new boyfriend, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, in the pages of Rolling Stone. The ensuing media blitz helped Coral Fang debut at #97 on the Billboard 200 last October, and the band got their feet wet on radio and television with "Drain the Blood." This weekend, Dalle and Homme hit Boston within a day of each other: the Distillers are at Axis on Saturday and Hommeís new Eagles of Death Metal are at the Middle East on Friday (see "Off the Record," on page 25, for our review of EoDMís Peace Love Death Metal).

Before the Distillers signed their major-label deal, theyíd released two albums on Epitaph that had established Dalle as one of the most explosive young performers in punk. Sheís the only member of the current line-up who appeared on the bandís homonymous debut; bassist Ryan Sinn and drummer Andy Granelli signed on for 2002ís Sing Sing Death House, and guitarist Tony Bradley joined up soon after. The Distillers have close ties to Bay Area punks the Nerve Agents: Granelli cut his teeth with them alongside guitarist Tim Presley, who created Coral Fangís harrowing cover art of a female crucifixion victim bleeding razorblades. (The disc is also available with a "safe cover," a bucolic painting of zoo animals against an orange sky.)

With its fierce vocals, brisk pace, and firm melodic backbone, the opening "Drain the Blood" sets the tone for the rest of Coral Fang. "I wish you didnít love me no more," Dalle sings at the outset of "Die on a Rope," one of the albumís most feverish sing-alongs. "Will I die, will I die/No, I wonít," she fumes on the chorus, which ends with a playful "way-oh, way-oh." The new-wave cheer carries over to the blissful harmonies of the title track, which could be the Australian nativeís theme song: "Ooh-ahh-ooh, the coral fang/Sinking in to make you ill." On "Beat Your Heart Out," she lightens up all the way with a major-key chorus, but itís her disgust that sticks: "Thereís nothing left, so take the rest."

The pattern to Dalleís recent trades (Epitaph for Warner Bros., Armstrong for Homme, the Warped Tour for Lollapalooza, mohawk for bangs in her eyes) can be summed up in four words: less punk, more rock. That theory extends to Coral Fangís producer, Gil Norton, who scored his biggest hits in the 1990s with Counting Crows and Foo Fighters, and to the standout track "The Hunger." "Hold on to the memory, itís all youíve got," she sighs over the kind of languid, semi-plugged groove Nirvana and Hole favored 10 years ago. And the scream she lets out at the end of each verse is so ferocious, it could take even Kurt and Courtney aback.

The albumís other big grunge move, "The Gallow Is God," is more immediate but less cathartic: the "what a surprise" chorus is too obvious, and the dissonant guitars signify boredom more than anything else. The band also fall short of their potential on the punk tantrums that follow "The Hunger" on the discís second half, much of which sounds as if it had been written on auto-pilot. They finish things off with 12 unrelenting minutes of feedback on "Death Sex," which is more suitable accompaniment for the former than the latter. Coral Fang is the sound of a band in transition, but the Distillers have the tunes to transcend the gossip.

The Distillers appear with opening band the Lot Six this Saturday, April 3, at Axis, 13 Lansdowne Street in Boston; call (617) 262-2437.

Issue Date: April 2 - 8, 2004
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