Verbena's 'Into the Pink' CD
For Scott Bonny to play the role of the angst-ridden rock star is nothing special. In a music industry wasteland so barren that rage is as standard to a band's identity as a tattoo or pet dog, it takes more than screaming to get the attention of rock fans and critics.
So Bondy and his Verbena bandmates Marie Griffin and Les Nuby begin their new record and first major label release "Into the Pink" with the delightfully deliberate ballad "Lovely Isn't Love."
Aided by the haunting echo provided by Nuby's adept piano work, Bondy -- whose voice is somewhere between a moan and a coo -- shows up every angst rocker currently on the circuit by actually suppressing his rage. It bubbles somewhere in the background, it crackles in the current of Bondy's verse, wanting to rise up, to take control to sear both singer and listener alike. Bondy holds it down, maintaining a delicate and purposeful balance for the album's first three minutes.
By the time the band does kick it into second gear on the follow-up rocker and title track "Into the Pink," it's not a typical explosion; it's a straight-out euphoric moment. The song goes from drone to dynamite-infused doom quicker than you can say "Seattle" and then comes back again ending with Bondy and Griffin unaided by anything but the hum of some distortion bridging the gap between the next batch of musical napalm. What follows is searing set of rock songs that rip the paint right off the wall.
It's hard not to sing (or moan) along when the band digs into the third track, a hollowed-out bass-heavy, eerie number dubbed "Baby Got Shot." It's the kind of song that, like it or not, sticks to the base of your skull and sucks at your psyche for the rest of the day. Maybe that's why it's the first single.
If the songs don't stick with you, the chilling similarity between Bondy and famed angst distributor Kurt Cobain will. The lanky bleached-blond Bondy has Cobain's distinct affinity to repeating the darkest of his oft-dark lyrics. When he endlessly drones out "You're so pretty when you sleep" at the end of "John Beverly" or "Save Me" at the conclusion of "Monkey, I'm Your Man" its hard not to think of his grunge godfather.
But the comparison is more often the result of things less musical and more publicity-oriented. Though the fact that the band signed with Capitol Records (Nirvana's first major label) under the supervision of Dave Ayers (who helped sign Nirvana) does raise an eyebrow. Oh, and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl produced "Into the Pink" and has been quoted from here to tomorrow noting the similarities.
Yet Verbena is more than a Nirvana clone. The trio, which hails from Birmingham, Ala., of all places, does take a lesson or two from the Seattle school, but has learned plenty outside of the classroom to keep them ahead of the class.
It is, in fact, probably better to say band members have the same influences as Cobain and company. Otis Redding, The Stooges and The Rolling Stones are all present and accounted for, and the band feels such a heavy debt to the Sex Pistols that a track ("John Beverly") is named after the band's drummer.
Nirvana never had anything going like Griffin. She is, at times, the perfect complement to Bondy's croon. More often hers is the voice of dissent in the form of mocking back-up vocals. In several tracks she seems to purposefully poke at Bondy's heartfelt lines, and even in his most impassioned moments she anchors the trio, her searing cynicism festering like a wonderfully off-key guitar.
All three are adept at their musicianship, though there are only few times that they seem to be playing on the same page. Instead, all three swarm around the idea of each song, rarely melding into the same or even complementary melodies. When Bondy, Griffin and Nuby do connect, though, well, it's like nirvana -- the spiritual state, not the band.
The smells-like-Nirvana comparison will linger, despite the subtle differences that exist and make Verbena a great band on its own. And while it stinks that it may be a while before Bondy's intelligent and haunting lyrics or the band's well crafted sound will be praised for more than its resemblance to others, it is inevitable that one day many bands will have to endure being compared to Verbena.