Music

The Distillers: Coral Fang

Peter Su

The Distillers

Coral Fang

Label: Hellcat
US Release Date: 2003-10-14
UK Release Date: 2003-10-13
Amazon
iTunes

Without accusing her of selling out, Brody Dalle (not Armstrong!) is the latest in a line of avatars selected by their respective record companies to be the Next Big Thing.

Major companies want to have artists perceived as being revolutionary, but they don't want to incite real revolutions. After all, when Nirvana spun out of control in the early '90s, it must also have been somewhat embarrassing for Geffen to be caught with its pants down and, like all the other majors, still promoting bands like Jackyl.

Ideally, the Next Big Thing should be different enough to get normally apathetic people worked up enough to buy more music, but not so different as to undermine the market value of previously established artists of, er, varying aesthetic persuasions (Hello, Nirvana! Goodbye, Jackyl!).

In recent years, at least since the advent of Alanis Morissette, we've had a lot of company-sponsored female Next Big Things, with varying degrees of artistic and commercial success. Artistically, they've ranged from the okay (Nikka Costa, Avril Lavigne) to the really quite-good (Pink) to the "O, Britney, Britney! Wherefore art thou, Britney?" dreck (Michelle Branch).

In that sense, Brody Dalle fits in well with the higher echelons of that diverse company: she's not much of a formal innovator, but she plays old forms with a lot of verve. Should the Distillers break, Warner Bros. certainly has a roster of somewhat similar punk artists in their stable to follow with; it wouldn't mean the haphazard signing frenzy of anyone in a flannel that followed in Nirvana's wake.

I hate to use this comparison, because so many female rockers -- especially if they have raspy voices, play loud, and are brunettes -- are compared to Joan Jett that the comparison's become almost a thoughtless rite of passage for any pissed-off female musician. Here, though, and I really mean it, Dalle sounds a lot like Joan Jett. Especially Joan Jett from 1994's Pure and Simple. In the wake of grunge, Jett pumped up her already-pumped-up sound and collaborated with disciples like Kathleen Hanna, creating an album that, on the surface, sounded harder and louder than anything she'd done before. Incidentally, that album, like Coral Fang, was also released by Warner Bros.

And that, more than even the strong vocal similarities, is what makes Dalle so much like Jett: not since Jett has such a potentially iconic female rocker who emerged from the punk scene played heavy metal with such abandon. Not heavy metal with knowing postmodern gender role reversals like the Donnas, not even heavy metal as one of the influences in a deliberate, effective art-rock project like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. No, heavy metal because music sounds good played fuckin' loud, heavy metal that splits the difference between stupid and stoopid and doesn't give a shit either way.

The difference, though, is that Dalle doesn't have Jett's unselfconscious penchant for pop (Jett, even before she achieved an icon's impunity from criticism, covered -- bless her - the Dave Clark Five on her debut). Coral Fang has more of a typical punk ambiguity -- all right, outright hostility -- towards pop happiness. Even the love songs here, including an ostensible stretch from "Beat Your Heart Out" to "Love is Paranoid" to "For Tonight You're Only Here to Know", are about giving in to a violent rush of blood to the head (either one) rather than long-term contentment or commitment.

Yet, whether about love or not, the songs are about spiritual violence couched in physical terms, about facing the void and teetering just this side from the brink. To give some idea, the liner notes, like the cover, are festooned with pictures of faceless, naked, sexual, dismembered female bodies and body parts that Jack the Ripper would have appreciated. Sure, lots of artists portray life, especially sex, as struggle -- Garbage, for instance -- but Dalle doesn't vamp it up, so her variations on the theme, if not any smarter, if not quite as sleekly catchy as Garbage's, do cut emotionally deeper.

For my money, this definitely isn't as good as a decent Joan Jett retrospective (Fit to be Tied and Flashback are both really good), but it is better than most of Jett's studio albums (I'd say less than early albums like I Love Rock n Roll or Bad Reputation but about even with Jett's late '80s comeback, Up Your Alley). The Distillers subtract a little of Joan Jett's poppy tunefulness and add (even) more aggressive vocals. If that sounds good to you, you'll at least like this album. Add bonus points if you like your hot rock grrls with a disembowlment and death fixation ("The Gallow is God", for noteworthy instance).

Dalle's label has her primed for a commercial breakthrough. She's ambitious enough to want it. And when the music the Distillers are pitching is this fierce (and when -- admit this matters -- Dalle is physically this attractive), she just might get it.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.