Review Summary: The Distillers' energetic debut album is only for those who love any form of Punk Rock. Otherwise you would be advised to look elsewhere if you are seeking music of a more complex form.
You can often argue that the spirit of Punk Rock, even after its slight decline in the early 80's, has always remained fully intact thanks to deep experimentation (The Clash), harsher, faster and nastier hardcore influences (The Exploited, Dead Kennedys) and even nods to the great Rock 'n' Roll era of the 50's (The Ramones). However, that doesn't mean to say that, however much this Punk-fuelled aggression or wide-eyed hatred for declines in society is exacerbated within the most prominent Punk Rock and Metal bands of today, it always works to their advantage. The Distillers, for all their hard work and failed line-up changes, unfortunately were one of these bands within their six years of existence.
Of course, the most popular and somehow entertaining member of The Distillers, Brody Dalle, didn't seem to give one toss about any criticism made by the general media. Near enough every single song and lyrics was penned by Brody, and even though her harsh and wildly enticing vocal styles didn't always fully resonate with the oldest of Punk fans, these songs have, in time, garnered enough cultural references and musical recognition to earn them a lifetime's supply of fame and fortune.
Mind you, the band's début album isn't anything special at all. The reason for this is perhaps the fact that every song bar one follows the same tried and tested, Punk influenced formula that Brody Dalle and Co. seem to have fully perfected with ease. Yes, simplicity is a key tradition of Punk Rock, but it doesn't necessarily make every song sound as good and memorable as hoped for. It also doesn't help when Brody Dalle's vocal range is the least varied of the four main instruments on offer here. Her vocals are very much in the spirit of Punk, but when fourteen songs of very similar structure and musicianship are literally controlled by the vocals, it proves to be a great disadvantage. Not to worry though, because the unbelievably short 'Old Scratch' and 'Blackheart' maintain their short bursts of energy thanks to some very well refined backing vocals by Rose “Casper” Mazzola and Kim Chi. Whilst this does seem to offer some kind of thoughtful emotion and feeling to the listener however, the monotonous repetition of singing 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah' and the titles of each song don't work in the band's favour either.
If you're reading this and thinking “This is just another modern Punk Rock album”, it is regrettable to say that you're probably right. Nevertheless, there are different Punk Rock experiences and techniques to be embraced and discovered within The Distillers' self-titled début. The poppy, bouncy 'The World comes tumblin' Down' (which interestingly has been covered by The Wildhearts on one of their cover albums) develops a very catchy and accessible anthem of Punk-fuelled riffs and aggressive yet somehow lenient rhythmic tempo changes, and consequently invites the listener to dance around in enjoyment. The rashly spoken lyrics in 'Girl Fixer' give off an extreme Dead Kennedys influence, and also give a brief bit of variety to the general vocal styles, in which Kim Chi's rapid-fire acceleration used on her bass rubs off on her simplistic vocal style too. Even the somewhat bluesy approach on 'Ask the Angels' (which, admittedly is a Patti Smith cover), maintains its aggressive yet groovy Punk attitude to startling effect, especially as it is placed directly in the middle of the album itself.
Brody Dalle's vocal effects may or may not be to your taste, but one thing is for certain: Her lyrics are every bit as maniacal and extreme as you'd expect them to be. The most obvious influence in the lyrics is the fact that The Distillers were founded in L.A., and therefore they pay respect to the “slums” of Los Angeles in the form of fun, exciting Punk songs. In the aptly-titled 'L.A. Girls' Brody screams that “ Yeah,god almighty what the *** happened to you?/I'm not red, white, and blue” and in 'Old Scratch' she spits out the fact that a “Despotic leader kills the bravest traitor on the street But keep the faith They say they’ll free us (me)”. There are also numerous references to the decline in society of Los Angeles, most notably on the album's closer and arguably most effective song on the album, 'The Blackest Years', in which The Berlin Wall's strong influences on German society between 1961-1989 are used as a direct metaphor, cleverly used as a somewhat political slant of Brody Dalle's creative yet simplistic imagery.
Not to go on for too long about the significance of The Distillers' debut album, but it certainly has its high- and lowpoints in a genre that has risen to great heights and fallen to a mediated slump oftentimes. So is this album merely worth your time? The answer is clear: If you can't live one day without listening to punk-fuelled, heart-rendering aggression in the form of short, energetic bursts that make albums like this only run for forty or so minutes, The Distillers' debut album could well be to your taste. Otherwise it is advisable to give it a miss for those who aren't fans of the genre at all.