Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hole - Nobody's Daughter [music review]

* Released in April
Hole's Nobody's Daughter is the epitome of mediocrity, which is a label that frontwoman Courtney Love would surely turn her reconstructed nose up at. She's always had a "love me or hate me" attitude when it comes to herself and her work, if you've ever read an interview she's given. It's her first album since the spectacular failure of 2004's solo release America's Sweetheart, which came in the wake of Hole's 2002 disbanding, and she remains the only remaining member from the group's last lineup (former bassist Melissa Auf der Maur and founding guitarist Eric Erlandson were not asked to participate with this project). Love is clearly ringing what little she can from the Hole name, which can't be much in 2010. The band's last release (the well-received Celebrity Skin) came out in 1998, a virtual eternity in the music business.
Nobody's Daughter had its fair share of problems over the course of its inception in 2005 and eventual release: record company squabbles, demos that were leaked online, and creative impasses between Love and some of her collaborators, including Billy Corgan (who contributed some early guitar work and co-wrote some songs), producer/songwriter Linda Perry, and producer Michael Beinhorn. All three exited the project at some point, but part of their work turns up in some capacity on the final album.
The album echoes elements of Celebrity Skin's glossy production, accentuated as it is with heaps of acoustic guitars that fill out the recording's sound, but this time around there's more of a one-dimensional impression left by all the percussive and folksy six string accompaniment. Eight of the ten tracks go this route, rendering the material with a stale sameness, and that's not even counting the eleventh "bonus track" titled "Never Go Hungry", which has Love doing her best Dylan as she sings, backed only by a lone acoustic. Normally, I actually love when artists throw lots of acoustic guitars into the mix, especially combined with heavier electrics...just not on nearly every song on the album. The title track throws in an unnecessary fake-out ending that also highlights one of the other problems with the material: even though the album clocks in at just 47 minutes (and that's including the bonus track) it feels much longer. "How Dirty Girls Get Clean" goes on for a good 90 seconds longer than it should, sapping a lively tune of its punky energy. "Pacific Coast Highway", which would appear to be a companion piece both in sound and California subject matter to Skin's "Malibu", also suffers from a lack of editing.
While the music may innocuously blend together, Love brings a harder kick with her piss and vinegar vocals. Her lived-in voice serves her well in delivering lines with an attitude that most women in their mid 40's couldn't pull off, although the expiry date may be fast approaching. Whether she's aiming ample amounts of vitriol at herself or others, it's still fun to hear Love do what she does best, as the album's strongest song, "Skinny Little Bitch", demonstrates. The track gets more mileage than it should out of a basic three guitar chord progression and there's an inspired increase in tempo at the end of the song. "Samantha" is the album's second best track, incorporating a clever lyrical and vocal twist on its "People like you fuck people like me/in order to avoid agony" refrain.         

Forget the 90's - the last decade alone has seen Love entrenched as regular TMZ and PerezHilton fodder, making headlines for all the wrong reasons. There was the court-appointed rehab, the alleged theft of husband Kurt Cobain's remains, clashes with the people handling his estate, rambling and non-sensical posts on her social networking sites, a lawsuit over unpaid credit card balances, and losing custody of her daughter. And those are just the more prominent ones. Despite her flakiness, I was still pulling for Courtney with this one, but alas, it was not to be. With a collection of music that includes not a single song that could be deemed "great", nor one that could be dismissed as "complete rubbish", Nobody's Daughter feels like the musical equivalent of someone just, well, treading water. And that is not a quality the enigmatic Love wears well.
Highlights: "Skinny Little Bitch", "Samantha", "Pacific Coast Highway"
Lowlights: "Loser Dust", "Honey", "For Once In Your Life", "Letter To God"
Rating: C

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chloe [movie review]

* Limited theatrical release in March; now on DVD
Chloe is Canadian director Atom Egoyan's latest film and his most commercial effort yet. It also marks his first feature that he didn't also write - Erin Cressida Wilson contributed the screenplay, which is based on the 2003 French film Nathalie.... This remake is also the movie that Liam Neeson was shooting at the time of the skiing accident and subsequent death of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson. Those events necessitated a rearrangement of the film's script and shooting schedule, with Neeson amazingly returning to work shortly after his wife's funeral for a couple of days of filming to wrap up the movie's work on his character.
Julianne Moore, Neeson, and Amanda Seyfried star, with Moore adding another standout performance to her resume (we'll overlook that terrible Bah-ston accent she brought to her appearances on 30 Rock last season). Moore plays Catherine, one half of an upper class couple, with a successful gynecology practice and an unhappy home life (her son hates her and her marriage to Neeson's David character has grown stale). Amid suspicions that David is cheating on her, Catherine hires an escort named Chloe (played by Seyfried) to test his faithfulness. The investigation into her husband's possible infidelity leads to a seismic shift within Catherine's own hollow, insecure inner being. Along with a complex, nuanced performance from Moore, the youthful Seyfried also does an excellent job in holding her own with two heavyweight actors, playing her character with a low-key, almost effortless sexual appeal that is shrouded in compelling mystery.
Egoyan might not have written the screenplay, but Chloe very much feels like it's been cut from his literary cloth. The examinations into human psychology, laced with sexual intrigue, echo much of Egoyan's past work (Exotica, in particular, comes to mind). To research the world of upscale sex workers, Egoyan hung out at a New York City hotel bar, where he soon found himself paying for the time of various escorts as he interviewed them about their work. The film was shot in Toronto, with the city playing itself for a change (Yorkville is featured prominently, as well as the Allen Gardens botanical garden).
From time to time on MediaboyMusings I like to make mention of a film/TV show/album's critical ratings on sites like RottenTomatoes or Metacritic, just to get the pulse on how something was received by the general public and media. A perusal of feedback on Chloe practically stunned me, with it only getting a 52% favourable rating on RottenTomatoes and an even less charitable rating on Metacritic. That, combined with the film's anemic box office returns in a limited theatrical release, will lead many to dismiss this as a failure and skip it, which is their loss. Most critical rebukes point to the film's admittedly disappointing final act, which does its damndest to cancel out the excellent first 75% of the movie and drag it down to a "trashy art film" level. It doesn't quite succeed though, as the beautifully shot, superbly acted bulk of the film cannot be disregarded.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆