The Divinyls aren't like other Australian rock bands. Just ask Christina Amphlett, the group's singer. "Midnight Oil, they're an Australian band. They sing about Australia, they're very pro-Australian. I mean, they do wonderful things over here like walk into radio stations with a pile of other people's singles from Australia. They're really great like that.

"Whereas the Divinyls are jerks."

"I don't know," objects guitarist Mark McEntee. "Jerks isn't the right word, really. 'Geeks' would be much closer . . ."

They laugh, and Amphlett says, "We just want to be thought of as Divinyls." Fair enough. But what exactly is a Divinyl?

It's a tough question. On the one hand, the Divinyls are a great rock 'n' roll band, boasting hard-hitting melodies, bone-bruising guitars and an irrepressible beat. But defining that sound in terms of the musical menu most people draw from is another matter entirely.

Here in the United States, the Divinyls were first taken for new wave, in part because of the brashness of their sound, in part because of Amphlett's provocative performances and practices, such as pouring pitchers of water over her head midsong.

But with the release of "What a Life!" the band's image seems a little less clear. "Pleasure & Pain," the album's first single, did well enough with the MTV set to warrant sending the band out with hard-rocking Aerosmith. Now, though, the Divinyls are courting a trendier crowd, touring alongside neo psychedelic rockers the Cult (the two play Lisner Auditorium tonight). "We're just a rock 'n' roll band," shrugs Amphlett. "People just don't know how to place us."

Nor is that a particularly American failing, for the Australian market has been similarly befuddled -- and beguiled -- by the band. Granted, the Divinyls have had fairly steady success down under, dating back to "All the Boys in Town," the band's first single. But there's an underlying sense of menace to the Divinyls that has left the pop music establishment rather wary of the group.

Blame it on the band's background. Starting out in Sydney's Kings Cross district, an area populated in large part by drug addicts, prostitutes and street hustlers, the Divinyls built a core audience out of what Amphlett calls "more of the down-and-out kind of person -- street kids and things like that."

"A lot of these people relate to us, and we have an empathy with them. We care about them. But we're not do-gooders," she adds with a laugh. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea here."

Indeed, the Divinyls have such a reputation for untoward behavior back home that the band's first television appearance was heavily attended by nervous station personnel, afraid the band would attempt something outrageous. Which, of course, it didn't.

But you can't blame the TV people for worrying. For instance, "What a Life!" takes its title from a poem Amphlett wrote while in jail. The funny thing is, Amphlett's offense was hardly the sort of thing expected of rock stars. "I was in jail for parking fines," she admits, resignedly.

Still, it's not hard to guess that at least a part of the Divinyls feel for the seamier side of life stems from a bit of "there but for the grace of God" recognition. Says Amphlett, "If I wasn't doing what I'm doing, I think I'd be an ax murderer, or something like that."

"An ax murderer?" asks bassist Rick Grossman, incredulous.

"Probably."

"I wouldn't have thought you'd have been an ax murderer," Grossman continues. "I'd have thought you would have been an . . ." His voice drifts off as he tries to think what Amphlett would have been, and the singer begins to laugh. "I dunno," he finally decides. "Like, someone who tried, maybe, to do something, and sort of" -- he searches for the word -- "died in the process."

Amphlett, along with the rest of the band, is in hysterics.

"Like trying to do long flights in a little airplane," Grossman elaborates.

Amphlett is clearly delighted. "Well, that's very nice of you," she tells Grossman. "Thank you."

"Well, I'm not being that nice," he demurs. "I'm not saying you would have actually achieved anything."

And Amphlett laughs all the more.