The Distillers: Coral Fang (2003)
I met The Distillers at an autograph signing at Record Runner, back when it wasn’t condos, in 2004. I bought the band a six pack of beer and hugged lead singer Brody Dalle, thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe such sounds, a voice like razors caught in machinery, could come out of such a tiny frame. The only original member of the band remaining, Dalle set to work on “Coral Fang” in 2003, turning out a polished punk rock litany that gave the band the production they deserved courtesy of pop rock heavyweight Gil Norton. I like big guitars and pounding drums, stuff that really fills the space out, and over the course of 11 tracks, “Coral Fang” scarcely leaves room to breathe.
Sounding like Courtney Love after having the shit kicked out of her, Dalle wails through well-written lyrics about bad relationships, sexual frustration, nostalgia and emotional sacrifice without once sounding trite or melodramatic. Her desperation and sarcasm entwine with undeniable vulnerability, climaxing as she holds her pitch-perfect scream on the words “Don’t go” just before “The Hunger” heads into its final chorus. It’s the single most raw performance by a female vocalist I’ve heard in the last 10 years.
Single “Drain the Blood,” along with tracks “Dismantle Me,” “Die on a Rope” and the title track, cuts to the quick. Each song presents a feverish pace that trumps the last until settling for “The Gallow is God,” with its smirking chorus that thrives on wordplay: “What a surprise/What is the price/What is the prize.” “Beat Your Heart Out” may present the album’s best hook, a loud and scabby delivery of the unadulterated joy that accompanies a newfound romance. It all builds to “Death Sex,” a 12-minute destruction of the sound booth in which guitars are not played but filleted and drums are beat to a bloody pulp at random before surging back for one more go around.
My favourite track on the record might be “Coral Fang,” one of the best pop punk songs I’ve ever heard, brief and astoundingly melodic underneath the uninhibited screams. Dalle’s vocal arrangements over the final chorus involve her backups going lower rather than higher, bringing a sense of finality and melancholy to what had been two minutes of determined fierceness. It’s that duality across the whole album that I appreciate – songs running not on anger alone, but on the genuine hurt that comes from dashed hopes. Dalle wants to love, can’t help it, will get tricked by it again and again, and will feel the effects physically.
The Distillers broke up after touring on the record. I’m glad I got to see them. Bassist Ryan Sinn went on to join Angels & Airwaves, Tom DeLonge’s Blink 182 offshoot, and has more recently been playing with The Innocent. Drummer Andy Granelli pursued work in another band called Darker My Love. Dalle and guitarist Tony Bradley are now playing in Spinnerette, a more experimental incarnation of their previous work. They left The Distillers behind on a sonic high note.
Video for “Drain the Blood” by The Distillers: