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The Dishes - 3

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Artist: The Dishes

Album: 3

Label: File 13

Review date: Dec. 17, 2003

Sometimes, often around the third album, a punk band grows up. Suddenly the band has songwriters. There's an acoustic number, an all-out pop song, or they delve into another genre. It's hard to keep finding something new in a two-minute, loud-fast song. It's hard to refuse to grow up. Not, apparently, for the Dishes.

The group started in the mid-’90s, shortly after Sarah Staskauskas and Kiki Yablon picked up the guitar, and their first two albums were brief, bare-bones affairs. If 3 loosens up in places, that shouldn’t be confused with letting up. Like the Ramones, they seem to have a perfect rock sound in mind, and each record is getting closer to that ideal. And while no cut is as tight and mean as the second album's “Fishnets,” the new record's “Use You Arms” takes the same chuckachucka riff and adds an even stronger chorus – a rattling, desperate version of punk.

The Dishes are often tagged as garage punk, as is their producer, Tim Kerr. It's hard to say what “garage” is these days, when lo-fidelity has become another sound to manufacture, and the punk suffix gets appended to very commercial music. Bands pegged as garage seem to share a desire to recapture the raw sound which made them fans in the first place, by artists like Bo Diddly, the Yardbirds, the New York Dolls or the Cramps – bands that inspired them to put down the LP and pick up the guitar. It's notable that those founding artists, for all the guitar mayhem, made no bones of their R&B roots.

There's something bluesy in the Dishes too, even if it's three steps removed. The brattyness of pop-punk is thankfully absent. They're noisy and swaggering, refusing to mature on one level, but getting more adult nonetheless. It's not political or party music, it just makes other sorts of punk sound sexless, similar to how 1950s R&B was racier than the teenage Rock and Roll of the day. The Dishes’ swagger falls between the carefully crafted snarl of Johnny Thunders and backwards-gazing clatter of Jon Spencer. Kerr's production filters the ramshackle guitars without getting consciously angular.

Aside from the nine-minute opener “Got Something to Tell You”, 3 is a blunt object. They take the ’60s nugget “Action Woman” and morph the go-go beat to a hammering stomp. Staskauskas sings, “I'm gonna find me an action woman / to love me all the time,” but it doesn't sound cagey or suggestive. It brings sheer thrill to the song, instead of blatant provocation.

This mostly female band doesn’t have to worry about being as tough as the boys. They holler every hook and pile on the stop-start riffs for one of the best punk albums of the year. 3 is like a sunburn – painful at first, obviously unhealthy, but after a few days it makes you feel cool.

By Ben Donnelly

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