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Room, meet the rhinoplastied elephant in a tutu. To address the new Hole record, Nobody's Daughter, without considering Courtney Love's chaos-prone reputation — the "Courtney Love Monster," as she recently described it on Twitter — is to analyze the recent health care bill without acknowledging President Barack Obama. It's impossible not to be distracted by the circular chorus of "Samantha," a slow-burning rager cowritten by Billy Corgan that substitutes curse words for handclaps: "People like you FUCK!/People like me FUCK!/People like you FUCK!/People like me!" These repeated lines raise the question: Who are these people like "you" or "me," exactly? Even Love admits that she finds it impossible to disentangle herself from her lyrical narrators.
So let us consider who people like Courtney Love might be. Someone whose husband's suicide is the 9/11 of modern rock? Someone who once thus enjoyed global goodwill, then squandered it in spectacularly public fashion? Someone whose legendarily combative personality is as polarizing as the Israel-Palestine conflict? Or someone who overdoses on Oxycontin in front of her daughter? Should we even get into who the "you" fucking her might be?
Let's not. At one point, a thesis could be written on the notion that Courtney Love was the rock 'n' roll Hillary Clinton: a strong, shrewd, icily ambitious woman who used her tumultuous, high-profile marriage as a professional catapult and therefore got labeled a bitch with balls. But that was the '90s. Hillary Clinton is now secretary of state. And Love? She's currently a court-deemed unfit parent who fronts a band named Hole and urinates with the door open in the company of an AP reporter.
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Yet we are still paying attention. (OK, I am.) And Nobody's Daughter's snarling, grunge-revival lead single, "Skinny Little Bitch," makes it easy to remember why, evoking everything Hole once stood for: self-tortured vanity and the punk-rock girl pummeling the prom queen. Credit nostalgia, if you like, but it's a truly fantastic Hole song.
But this Hole is not the Hole we remember. No Lurch-by-way-of-Thurston-Moore guitar-slayer Eric Erlandson. (He's pissed.) No ginger-pixie four-stringer Melissa Auf der Maur. (She's solo.) No bassist Kristen Pfaff. (She's dead.) This Hole actually has no other women — just three men joined by an occasional touring fourth. The one who matters most is Micko Larkin, a British guitarist and occasional roommate who has emerged as Love's possible saving grace. Nobody's Daughter, the first Hole release since 1998's Celebrity Skin, began five years ago with Love scribbling songs in rehab, where she went while her terrible 2004 solo record, America's Sweetheart, tanked. Collaborations with ex-lover Corgan and producer and pop doctor Linda Perry started and stopped in reportedly dramatic fits; Skin producer Michael Beinhorn eventually stepped in. But when Love decamped to New York from Los Angeles, Larkin took over. He is now a credited cowriter on five songs — nearly all the best ones too. Without him, it's likely Nobody's Daughter would be nobody's record.
But if the result belongs to anybody, it's the Courtney Love Monster. "Skinny Little Bitch" is about when the Monster shape-shifted into an anorexic cokehead. The beast's genesis is also sketched in the Martha Wainwright–assisted title track, an arresting raised-lighter lament that Love has said reflects both her story and Frances Bean's peculiar situation: "Nobody's daughter, she never was, she never will/Be beholden to anyone she cannot kill." (Love's mother, therapist Linda Carroll, published a 2006 tell-all, Her Mother's Daughter — this is a hostile denial.) We also get to escort the Monster on a walk of shame home from "Someone Else's Bed."
"Play this recording very very loud please," the record's liner notes beg. This is good advice. Otherwise, you will probably hate the rest of it. Love has made a career of lashing out, and yet aside from the punk pogo "Loser Dust," the rest of Daughter lacks that profound aggression, which is the whole reason we — OK, again, I — loved this crazy woman in the first place. Instead, we get a litany of annoying rock ballads and anguished modern-rock pap, plus one extremely ill-advised affectation: Love copping Bob Dylan's folk-codger cadence on at least four songs.