An unexpected, intelligent success from an artist proving her detractors wrong.
Jaime Gill 2010-04-26
When Hole’s raging, ragged debut album appeared in 1991, few would have predicted that new records would still be appearing under that name 19 years later. But then, Courtney Love has often turned being misunderstood and underestimated into an art form.
Of course, there will always be Love-loathers who dismiss her every success as solely dependent on her status as Kurt Cobain’s widow. This ignores the fact that she has slowly and erratically built up a back catalogue which rivals Cobain’s in depth, if not in impact. Nobody’s Daughter, despite its lengthy and troubled gestation, is a rich and emotionally searing addition to that canon, effortlessly besting her haphazard solo album.
The imperious title-track opens and establishes the blueprint. The sound is still distinctly 90s (the strafing guitars suggesting that Love has been listening to The Afghan Whigs) but her vocals have a new, weathered stateliness. Love has always had a Plath-like obsession with her own mythology, but on Nobody’s Daughter it is given full reign. She rages, “Don’t tell me I have lost when clearly I’ve won,” with the righteous, defiant fury of someone who didn’t die or fade away as many predicted, and some seemed to desire.
The album’s two emotional centrepieces are more introspective. On the tender, elegiac FM rock of Pacific Coast Highway she obliquely but unmistakeably reflects on the marriage which defined and nearly destroyed her, and its “miles and miles of regrets”. On the brooding, slow-burning Letter to God she exposes herself even more brutally: lamenting over forlorn, sighing guitars that “I never wanted to be some kind of comic relief” and she's "turned into a freak”. The gorgeous melody lifts it from self-absorption into something movingly beautiful.
But the most gratifying thing about Nobody’s Daughter is that almost every song is strong. Skinny Little Bitch is a numbskull-riffed throwaway, but is flanked by songs as bruisingly lovely as Honey, as hook-heavy as Samantha, or as wistful and sad-eyed as For Once in Your Life, which sees Love channel Marianne Faithfull to gently riveting effect.
It’s said that living well is the best revenge, but that has never seemed an entirely realistic option for Love. Instead she will have to settle for proving her armies of detractors wrong with records as lingering, intelligent and unexpected as this.