It’s been six years since we last heard from Courtney Love. Musically that is. Since the release of her solo album America’s Sweetheart, she’s hardly been out of the headlines – be it for stripping off on US talkshows, jail terms, rehab for drug abuse or, most poignantly, losing custody of her daughter Frances Bean to Kurt Cobain’s family.
She’s apparently straightened herself out now and, to celebrate, she’s resurrected the Hole name for the first time since 1998. But it’s not the Hole that recorded Celebrity Skin; founder member Eric Erlandson and bassist Melissa Auf der Maur nowhere to be seen. Their most unlikely replacement is Micko Larkin, the young guitarist for short-lived London indie-folk band Larrikin Love.
This is very much a Courtney Love album though, with old friends Billy Corgan and Linda Perry on board, and some typically confessional lyrics that sound like they’ve been ripped from her time in rehab. And, like Courtney herself, while it’s often an incoherent mess, it’s also impossible to ignore.
For, despite her tabloid reputation as a walking disaster zone, Love can be a compelling performer. Celebrity Skin was a terrific, if underrated, album and early tracks like Doll Parts and Rock Star still sound fresh today. On Nobody’s Daughter there are still hints of that old fire; Skinny Little Bitch snarls its way out of the speakers and sounds terrific, while the big chorus of Honey recalls Corgan’s glory days with Smashing Pumpkins.
Yet there’s much here that sounds, frankly, insubstantial. Large chunks sound horribly dated – as befits an album that’s been five years in the making. And Linda Perry’s unfortunate penchant for an empty, anthemic-soundng chorus is written all over Nobody’s Daughter. It’s telling that, amongst the bombast, it’s the more restrained tracks such as the wistful For Once In Your Life that work best.
And then there’s Courtney Love’s voice. Never the loveliest of instruments, she now sounds so hoarse that, on tracks like the closing Never Go Hungry, it’s almost painful to listen to. However, it works well on the blisteringly angry Samantha, a song in which Love casts herself as a prostitute, viciously berating her client that “people like you fuck people like me in order to avoid suffering”.
The deterioration in Love’s voice means that the quieter, gentler tracks stand out. Letter To God, in particular, is nothing short of compelling – a frail, naked confessional which lays her past troubles bare. It sways perilously close to power ballad territory, but Love’s delivery gives it a real edge.
Like most Hole albums, Nobody’s Daughter has flashes of inspiration but is generally weighed down by inconsistency and too many songs that sound like they were phoned in. There were rumours at the time of Kurt Cobain’s death that he was turning his back on grunge music and pursuing a more acoustic based career. A change of direction for his wife could be just what the doctor ordered.