The Band That Would Be King

Produced by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters (and, more to the point, formerly of Nirvana).

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"

(RealAudio excerpt)

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,

I'd say.

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?