Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hole's "Nobody's Daughter" Review: A Riot Girl's Redemption

Rating: 4/5

Has there ever been a female artist more controversial and divisive than Courtney Love?

Amid multiple arrests, rehab stints, humiliating public appearances (like that infamous Pamela Anderson roast, for example) and even conspiracy theories that place the death of Kurt Cobain squarely on her shoulders, Rock’s most-(in)famous widow sparks controversy like it’s her job.

Which it is, of course. I mean, isn’t that what rock stars do? As far as that particular facet of Love’s job description goes, Courtney gets a 10,000 out of ten. But as for that other little part of her occupation—you know, the music-making part—Love’s final grade here is a bit more complicated. Live Through This, Hole’s 1994 sophomore release, is an undeniable classic of 90’s alternative rock; so good, in fact, that Love’s detractors will swear to you that Kurt actually wrote the songs. That’s probably bullshit, but it speaks directly to Courtney’s decidedly untenable position in the Hard Rock Universe; it seems like everyone loves to hate Courtney, and especially hates to like her music.

Well it’s been 16 years since that album’s release. Two somewhat lackluster releases (the glammed-up Celebrity Skin and Love’s half-baked solo disc America’s Sweetheart) and a whirlwind, near-fatal drug addiction later, Hole returns with Nobody’s Daughter, a dark and deeply personal missive that won’t convert the hostile, but irrefutably attests to Love’s position as one of the most engaging and incendiary musical personalities in the history of rock n’ roll.

Like most of Love’s previous work, the album’s content is largely of an almost-painfully personal nature, with lines like “I never wanted to be/The person who you see/Can you tell me who I am,” on the confessional “Letter to God,” sure to astonish with their austerity and candor. Love reportedly wrote many of these songs while confined to a rehab facility, and it shows; many of these songs are tortured, self-reflective, distinctly sober soliloquies from a woman who has seen and done it all. And the band doesn’t forget to have a little fun either (and by fun, I mean that dark, malevolent, Iggy Pop sort of fun); up-tempo rockers like “Skinny Little Bitch” and “Loser Dust” supply that classic venom we know, love and expect from anything associated with Courtney Love.

Love’s most emotionally-cathartic moment comes on the epic “Pacific Coast Highway,” a hard-edged acoustic number, where the battered and bruised former Riot Girl croons with a cigarette-wrecked, Patti Smith-like drawl “I’m overwrought and so disgraced/I’m too ashamed to show my face/And they’re coming to take me away now/And what I want I will never have/I’m on the Pacific Coast Highway/With your gun in my hands.” But the most outstanding moment on Nobody’s Daughter is the positively toxic “Samantha,” where Love rails against a trick-turning opportunist, sneering “Watch her wrap her legs around this world/Can’t take the gutter from the girl.” The song strikes the perfect balance between the rawness of Live Through This and the melodic pop sensibilities of Celebrity Skin. It’s classic Hole, and Courtney Love’s finest moment in over a decade.

Ultimately, the album does get bogged down by some of its slower, overly-emotional moments, but these minor missteps certainly do not cloud the bigger picture here. Nobody’s Daughter is a shockingly impressive comeback release from Rock’s most-embattled living icon.

You may not rate her too highly on your list of favorite people. But as far as effort goes, the bitch gets a ten.