On “Nobody’s Daughter,” Courtney Love sets out to reclaim her turf as a musician. For some fans, going back to the Hole name is an admission of defeat, especially without any of her old bandmates. But it’s more likely she’s calling herself Hole to play down the Courtney Love cartoon — and remind everyone (including herself) that she first made her mark as a musician. She worked hard on these songs, instead of just babbling a bunch of druggy bullshit and assuming people would buy it, the way she did on her 2004 flop, America’s Sweetheart.
The songs are sturdy, for the most part, with acoustic power chords chugging through standouts like “Samantha” (“Watch her wrap her legs around the world”) and “Pacific Coast Highway.” The lyrics are about junkies or sluts, or sometimes both, as in “Skinny Little Bitch.” “Honey” is an ace ballad about sex and drugs: Junkie meets slut, slut loves junkie, junkie loves junk. It’s basically the exact same tune as the Verve’s Nineties Brit-rock classic “On Your Own,” just as “Nobody’s Daughter” sounds like Cracker’s “Low” — but that’s just part of the Nineties vibe.
Love relies on the same L.A. pros who made America’s Sweetheart and Celebrity Skin — Billy Corgan co-wrote four of the songs, Linda Perry wrote or co-wrote five, and producer Michael Beinhorn gives everything a soft-focus rock glow. Unfortunately, Love seems to have blown her voice. In nearly every song, she croaks and gasps for breath, squeaking when she attempts to snarl. The slower the tempo, the harder she pushes to hold notes too long, as in the excruciating “For Once in Your Life” and “Someone Else’s Bed.”
Musically, Nobody’s Daughter taps into the mellow-grunge mode, located between Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” and Hole’s “Malibu.” But as a singer, Love can’t hang with the Dave Pirner of 1992, the Courtney Love of 1998 or the Eddie Vedder of whenever. Even in the strong songs, the first verse is usually tough going; the backup choruses and guitar overdubs eventually come to the rescue, but you have to be a big fan to make it that far. Did they try to fix her vocals in the studio and fail? Or did they just think it sounded more rock & roll like this? Either way, yeesh. If Love is dead set on pretending she’s a band, maybe she could hire Melissa Auf der Maur to sing?
Nobody’s Daughter isn’t a true success — but it’s a noble effort. Whatever you think of Love’s sparkling personality, she was an absolute monster vocalist in the Nineties, the greatest era ever for rock singers. She’s remained a high-profile public presence, always game for a Twitter rampage or a celebrity-roast pratfall — but it was always that voice that made her matter. The way she sings on the 1994 Hole album Live Through This, on classics like “Miss World,” “Doll Parts” and “Softer, Softest,” remains a landmark of the rock & roll howl. (And if you ever doubt how much she influenced Kurt Cobain, listen to Nirvana’s Nevermind and In Utero back to back and note the vowel-shredding Courtney snarl he picked up in between.) She doesn’t have that power in her lungs anymore — barely a trace. But at least she remembers, and that means something in itself.