There are certain things that can be relied on in life, and punk rock is one of them. It is oddly comforting and ironic that a movement founded in the name of rebellion could spawn bands that so carefully follow the strict punk conventions. Any punk revival band worth its salt knows, respects and to some extent imitates its predecessors. Unlike other (more disposable) forms of music, quality punk rock looks and sounds similar not out of a lack of creativity, but because of an intentional effort by its practitioners to maintain the purity of the scene.
If punk rock is a social movement, The Distillers are its new leader. Their second release, Sing Sing Death House, is not for the faint of heart. Led by impossibly perfect singer/guitarist Brody Armstrong, (picture Courtney Love with a mohawk and lip piercings) The Distillers effortlessly balance irreverent fun with a social conscience, and create traditional yet sophisticated punk rock that explores themes of salvation, rebellion, desperation, drugs and even women’s lib. As if The Distillers punk credentials could not be more complete, Armstrong just so happens to be married to Tim Armstrong of Rancid. If Sing Sing Death House is any indication, things are clearly rocking chez Armstrong.
Every song on Sing Sing Death House is played with an urgency most bands fail to achieve on an entire record. In her husky gravel howl, Armstrong takes us on a punk odyssey tour of her life, and shames us for ever doubting that there is salvation to be found in music. Even in the record’s darkest moments, “Sick of it All,” “Hate Me” and “Desperate,” a sense of hope is conveyed through the fact that Armstrong lived to sing about it.
Though the majority of Sing Sing Death House is decisively not ready for prime time, the most accessible tracks on the record, “The Young Crazed Feeling” and “City of Angels,” are undeniably catchy. With their sing-along ready choruses and irresistible hooks, these songs are perfectly crafted pop/rock gems. As “The Young Crazed Feeling” reaches its climax, Armstrong, singing for her life, chants “I’ve got freedom and my youth!” it is impossible to not be swept up in the moment. Later, as it hits Armstrong, “I’ve got everything that I need,” it hits you too that liberation may be just that simple.
Rating: Three stars.