On March 19, Courtney Love and her new band-mates took the stage at Spin‘s annual SXSW party as the latest reincarnated version of Hole. The show, which was the band’s first tour date since their final tour in 1999, surprisingly garnered positive reviews even though Love displayed her usual erratic behavior. If anything, it was a smart PR move to properly showcase their first album in over ten years, Nobody’s Daughter.
With Love as the only remaining original member of Hole left, the album seems more like it should have a logo of her name on the front rather than a band logo. Despite the fact that Nobody’s Daughter comes off as “The Courtney Show” at times, at least age has yet to soften Love’s bitter angst. The opening lyrics of the title track clearly demonstrate this fact: “Down at the bottom of the ocean / I lay down / Nobody’s coming / Just continue to drown.” The snarl of Love’s words is accented by a swell of strings and a chiming guitar melody. The calm doesn’t last very long though, as “Skinny Little Bitch”, the album’s first single, comes blaring out of the gate with furious guitars and Love’s deafening howl, reminiscent of Live Through This-era Hole.
Similarly to 1998’s Celebrity Skin, there’s a good helping of acoustic guitars on Nobody’s Daughter, but instead of weakening Hole’s raucous sound, they only help to accent Love’s anguish, especially with the poppy hooks of “Samantha” and the brooding “Honey”. Other than the acoustic effects and a subtle orchestral brush here and there, the music is pretty straight-forward and doesn’t differ much from the patented verse-chorus-verse formula that Hole and every other grunge-rock band from the ‘90s came to rely on.
Despite the easily accessible music, Nobody’s Daughter is still somewhat of a misfire. The weakest points come when Love attempts to sing about her sex life. There’s no rule, of course, that a 45-year-old woman shouldn’t sing about her affairs—hello, Liz Phair—but instead of expressing her desires, Love just sounds like she’s trying too hard. Whether she’s recalling being in her underwear on “Someone Else’s Bed” or moaning “oh baby just go slower, oh baby just go lower”, in “Skinny Little Bitch”, it’s hard to separate the sexual images from the public knowledge of Love’s personal life. A little lyrical subtlety goes a long way, and Love would fare a bit better on the album if she stopped trying so hard to live up to her own image.
Where Nobody’s Daughter excels in its sharp hooks and melancholy lyrics, it unfortunately is lacking when it comes to Love’s vocals. Her signature howl is still in full effect, but the passage of ten years are also very audible on Love’s pipes. When she’s in her element on a rocker like “Loser Dust”, her voice is barely distinguishable from Live Through This-era Hole. However, when she stretches her vocal range and bites off a bit more than she can chew, you have vocal travesties like the screechy, “How Dirty Girls Get Clean”, and the schmaltzy ballad “Letter to God”.
Overall, Nobody’s Daughter isn’t a complete backfire, but it is proof that Love should hang up the Hole moniker and stick to her own solo career instead, since this release is basically a Courtney Love solo record that just happens to have a Hole logo on the cover instead. Love still undoubtedly has many songs left in her that are waiting to be recorded; she just needs to learn that it’s time to move on from the past.