Album Review: Hole – “Nobody’s Daughter”

by Jason LeRoy on April 29, 2010

I have always considered myself a big Courtney Love fan. I know that sounds bizarre to many, but I’ve followed her long, strange career like some follow their favorite sports teams (or so I’m told). It just so happens that Courtney is like one of those sports teams that has far more failures than triumphs, and tends to flunk random drug tests. But she usually comes through when it counts, and no matter how much her reputation has suffered over the years, I have never been capable of anything less than total love and adoration of her. Sadly, Nobody’s Daughter is just the latest challenge to that love.

Prior to this, I would strongly argue that Courtney Love has never made a bad and/or boring record. Her three prior albums as Hole have ranged from ferociously raw grrrl metal (Pretty on the Inside) to indisputably one of the greatest albums of the ’90s (Live Through This) to an exquisitely polished California-pop classic (Celebrity Skin). Then, there was her solo album, America’s Sweetheart, which earned mostly positive reviews for being the kind of filthy, sweaty rock record people just weren’t making anymore.

Sweetheart certainly displayed the extent to which Love had destroyed herself following her late-’90s grace period as an acclaimed actress and glamour girl, but her sanity’s loss was the listener’s gain (although she has recently made dismissive comments about this album, referring to it as “that piece of shit I made in the south of France,” and further attempting to distance herself from it by resuming the Hole moniker for this new album, as if Sweetheart never happened).

And now we have Nobody’s Daughter. Or rather, we’ve had Daughter is various forms and variations over the last two years. It leaked in at least two complete  versions prior to the official release, including one a year ago that appeared to have official album art and final production.

Both of the previous incarnations of Daughter seemed to find Love moving in a consistently midtempo, occasionally acoustic, almost folk-rock direction that spotlighted her heartfelt yet ravaged vocals and confessional lyrics. In short, Linda Perry’s fingerprints were all over it. But it was quite striking hearing Courtney in such a vulnerable, emotional state; the album was undeniably affecting.

Certain elements of that session remain on the released version of Nobody’s Daughter, although the repeated tracks appeared to have been rerecorded and remixed. The album is produced by Michael Beinhorn, who also did Celebrity Skin, and finds Love co-writing her songs with Perry, Billy Corgan (despite his petulant legal threats to the contrary), and new Hole guitarist Micko Larkin.

The album only has two genuinely uptempo rockers: lead single “Skinny Little Bitch” and the Corgan collaboration “Loser Dust.” “Bitch” is an undeniably addictive pleasure, even if it filters Love’s complex energy into a radio-ready modern rock bonbon. But although it’s accessible pop-rock, it’s still much more aggressive and explicit than anything from Celebrity Skin. “Loser Dust” is fast, fun, and dirty, recalling some of the more coherent moments from Sweetheart.

The album has a few other nice moments. The title track, which randomly features backing vocals by Martha Wainwright, is solid midtempo grunge. “Honey” is one of the more successful songs featuring the rambling, extended song structures Love first introduced on Sweetheart; she switches gears multiple times within the same track, from tender and acoustic to screaming and aggressive.

In my opinion, the best track on the album (and by “best” I mean “could most easily be mistaken for a Live Through This outtake”) is “Samantha,” which has been a staple of Love’s live shows for quite a while. This centerpiece song grabs the listener immediately, and is absolutely the funnest song to sing along to, especially with the endlessly repeated chant at the end: “People like you / fuck people like me / fuck people like you / fuck people like me,” and so on.

“For Once In Your Life” is probably the most emotionally effecting of the album’s many midtempo numbers, with an especially battered-heart vocal by Love and exquisite production. “Pacific Coast Highway,” another Corgan collaboration, has been polished considerably from its earlier incarnations on the leaked albums, and now seems to have the exact same acoustic guitar opening as “Boys On The Radio” from Celebrity Skin, which itself started as a b-side called “Sugar Coma.”

But that’s pretty much the extent of the good news. Even Daughter‘s finer moments are modest achievements compared to Love’s previous efforts; the rest of it is a generic midtempo blah. The songs tend to blend together, especially on the second half of the album. “Someone Else’s Bed” is especially forgettable, and the starkly acoustic closing numbers, “How Dirty Girls Get Clean” and “Never Go Hungry,” just don’t work.

So, Nobody’s Daughter is the first album Courtney Love has released that genuinely disappoints. And yet, it appears to be a hit! It’s given Courtney a second (third? fourth? seventeenth?) chance at “credit in the straight world,” so to speak. “Skinny Little Bitch” has become a hit single on modern rock radio, and Courtney’s been making the media rounds looking clean and sane (if maybe a bit sedated — did you see her on The View?).

So, once again, being a Courtney Love fan has put me in an awkward position. This is not the work I want to see her doing, but if it keeps her successful and financially stable, I wouldn’t begrudge her that. Several reviews have compared modern-day Courtney to Marianne Faithfull around the time she released her masterpiece, Broken English, which is somewhat accurate (God knows Courtney’s vocal chords have taken a turn toward Marianne’s). Nobody’s Daughter is certainly no English, but with any luck it will be Faithless, the largely forgotten album that preceded it. It is impossible to imagine the pop culture landscape without Courtney Love in it; no one can play the part like she can. And I, for one, believe she still has another great album in her. This just isn’t it.

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