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