Verbena's Into the Pink is a succinct album containing songs about
kisses, guns, being uptight and wanting to leave town, which makes it the
perfect soundtrack album for the end of the '90s. Originally from down
around Birmingham, Ala., Verbena have been described as the Stones meet X
meet Nirvana meet the Stooges meet Babes In Toyland, but all that tells you
is that the band has undergone some changes since its early singles and even
since its debut, Souls For Sale (1997). Gone (but not entirely
forgotten) are the pop jangle and rootsiness of those recordings. Also gone
are a few bandmembers: it's basically down to Scott Bondy (group mastermind)
and Anne Marie Griffin (band's secret weapon), along with Les Nuby on drums.
For this outing, Dave Grohl contributes bass, publicity and
production, and that gives you an idea of the direction the band is taking.
Almost every track is pithy and kick-ass, especially "Baby Got Shot" (RealAudio excerpt),
which is a "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" for a decade diseased by high
school shootings (students, please note the possibility of irony in
Verbena lyrics!); "Depression Is a Fashion" (RealAudio excerpt),
which points up the pleasures of being high on, well, paranoia (don't
miss Bondy discovering a long-lost sister in his head); and the eye-opening
"Sympathy Was Dead": "Don't think you can live so long/ You could die
with a pretty face."
These short and not-at-all-sweet tunes kick the doors to your brain (and
heart) open, which is what rock is for, lest we forget. "Pretty Please"
is a great song about begging for sex, while "Into the Pink," with its
boot-stompin' bass-poppin' intro, screeches that "we should kick the
place right in the crotch." In "Bang Bang," Bondy promises to "kill the
king," which makes more sense if you go along with the Iggy comparisons,
Most of the lyrics condemn, in one way or another, having to fake it,
even if you're headed for the brink trying to stay true. In "Submissionary,"
Bondy complains, "we should make up, but I don't wanna"; similarly,
"Monkey, I'm Your Man" shrieks, "I'm bored with being weird" and resolves
into a blood-curdling chorus of "baby, save me, baby, save me!" It's
scary, but lotsa kids feel this way: The cure for a sense of unreality
(assuming the meds don't work) is to live dangerously, which could just
mean killing somebody, or killing yourself. "Prick the Sun" vividly
illustrates the fantasy that we can "wreck our cars, pretend we're dead,"
and watch the sun bleed.
Scary stuff, which is maybe why the album starts off, strangely enough,
with a subdued Chiltonesque (by way of Plush) piano tune, "Lovely Isn't
Love," and ends with some jingle-jangle for the jungle out there, "Big
Skies, Black Rainbow."
Rock is supposed to be dead, but Verbena whips out riffs to wrestle with
the issues, with the pain. Scott Bondy's great intensity and wit, along
with Anne Marie Griffin's voice -- as powerful an instrument as
her guitar -- are so alive they make you wanna stay alive, and that's
worth a lot just now, isn't it?