Review: Hole’s “Nobody’s Daughter”

Courtney Love isn’t always the easiest celebrity to like, but at the same time, I don’t really think she always gets a fair shake, either. “Nobody’s Daughter” is Love’s first record under the Hole banner in 12 years. She has a brand new backing band, thus making this essentially her second solo album, following 2204’s awkward “America’s Sweetheart.” The fact that that previous record proved to be an uneven, stumbling mess means that this record is destined to be automatically written off as a wash, documenting Love’s progression further into the abyss. Seeing how other critics have received “Nobody’s Daughter,” it seems many of them made up their minds beforehand to hate it. In fact, this does indeed sound like a Hole record. While not quite a great Hole record, it’s still quite a good one which may surprise some of her sharpest critics, especially those taken aback and baffled by “America’s Sweetheart.” Love’s voice has aged or been slightly damaged from wear. She occasionally finds a note she can’t quite hit, but at the same time, she’s found a new, somewhat pleasing lower register which compliments many of these songs about being down and out and/or lost. Her voice wears her pain. When it all comes down, she still sounds roughly the same.

The record is front-loaded. The first three songs are the strongest on the record, beginning with the title track, a driving ballad which plays like a lower-key answer to “Violet.” Like that song, this should be a single. It serves as a strong thesis statement for the album and where this “band” stands in 2010. Love sings, “Nobody’s daughter. / She never was, she never will, / Be beholden to anyone she cannot kill / You don’t understand how damaged we really are.” Such lines are jarring, especially considering the Kurt Cobain factor, but they are not meant to read that way. Death has surrounded Love throughout her professional life, whether it be the death of her husband or the death of her one-time bassist, Kristen Pfaff. She has probably had to say premature goodbyes to too many people and that combined with living a rather hard lifestyle has taken its toll. This track encapsulates all that built up angst and sadness into five minutes of captivating magic. There’s no reason not to like this song.

“Skinny Little Bitch,” is the album’s first single and it sounds like a classic Hole tune. It’s a hard-charging angry cut down of its title figure. Yes, it sounds like a very close cousin to Nirvana’s “Dive,” but Love and Cobain’s music always followed a similar path. Back when “Live Through This” came out in 1994, that spawned some ugly, unsubstantiated ghost-writing rumors, but the truth is, it could just simply come down to a similarity in musical sensibility and taste.

“Honey” is a softer edged, more pop friendly ballad and it plays extremely well. The tune of the chorus when Love sings, “He goes down, down…”, sounds strikingly familiar. In any case, it’s a very appealing track, showcasing this new band at their best. It should be noted that all three of these opening tracks were co-written by Love and new guitarist, Micko Larkin. They make a strong pair, indeed.

“Pacific Coast Highway” sounds good, but it shares the chord progression of “Boys On The Radio” from Hole’s last record, “Celebrity Skin.” That track was superior. While this one provides a satisfying listen, it seems like a retread.

“Samantha,” has gotten some buzz, particularly because it was the song the band chose to play on British television a few months back. Co-written with her frequent sparring partner, Billy Corgan (and Linda Perry) it’s a character study. Love said in an interview on Amazon’s website that she identifies with the character in the song. It’s a classic Hole track, until it devolves into a repetition of the lines, “People like you f___ people like me, in order to avoid agony. / People like you f___ people like me in order to avoid suffering.” Despite the polished production, this indicates that Love is still willing to get a little rough around the edges. In this case, it keeps the song from reaching the level it could, but then again, the track is still somewhat pleasing.

“Someone Else’s Bed” plays much like the album’s title track. It has a confessional feel as Love sings, “So I have another cigarette and I just try to forget. / How did I end up all alone? / How did we all end up dead? / Sunday morning when the rain begins to fall. / I believe I’ve seen the end of it all.” Love is a survivor, and while she’s seen her share of despair, she’s lived to tell about it. This, new, older, wiser Courtney Love comes with a sage sense of wisdom as if she’s learned from her mistakes. There’s a sense of isolation here. Some listeners might have issues with her vocal inflections and her over-pronouncing of certain words, but longtime fans should enjoy this track. Tracks like this follow the more polished path of “Celebrity Skin.” While they are more accessible tune-wise, Love manages to keep her edginess intact.

“For Once In Your Life” is an almost folky waltz, where Love sings, “I swear I’m too young to be this old.” While fans of Hole’s roughest recordings, will be turned off by this, (It’s far removed from “Pretty On The Inside!”) you can’t deny, she’s a compelling presence. This is quite different from Love’s previous work, but it suits her.

“Letter To God” was written by Linda Perry. It’s the one track on the album that Love did not have a hand in writing. While Perry’s writing is all over this record, it’s usually alongside Love’s. Knowing that Love did not have a writing hand in this track makes all the difference. When she sings, “I never wanted to be the person you see. Can you tell me who I am?” it all seems a little too engineered. If these words were in fact Love’s, they’d be more authentic.

“Loser Dust” brings back a harder punk energy absent from most of this record. It’s a reminder that Love can still rock out when necessary. It’s another highlight, showcasing more of the sound traditionally associated with Hole.

“How Dirty Girls Get Clean” is another highlight. Again, Corgan and Perry are co-writers in this quickly strummed rocker. Love can still shout. She’s still got fire. This would make an excellent single. This is mighty close to the Hole you remember.

The album closes with “Never Go Hungry,” a surprisingly folk-y Dylan-esque ditty written by Love alone. “I don’t care what it takes, my friend. / I will never go hungry again,” she sings. It’s an anthem to her survival. Love is a no-nonsense woman who has done what she’s had to in order to make it. Again, this is another highlight and another quintessential album track.

The naysayers will nitpick at Courtney every which way they can. But the truth is, she’s held to higher standard than her male peers. Somehow without the other original members of the band, she’s made a record that builds effectively on the band’s legacy. One must remember, each one of Hole’s individual studio albums has a slightly different lineup. She was always the focal point. “Nobody’s Daughter” may not be “Live Through This,” but it builds nicely off of the sounds explored on “Celebrity Skin.”

Give this record a listen. Drop your preconceptions at the door. You just might be surprised. After “America’s Sweetheart,” this record is strikingly redeeming. Will anyone bother to care? That remains to be seen. In any case, Love proves her worthiness, once again.

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