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Preview: Hole at the 9:30 Club, June 27

June 25, 2010

For good and bad, Courtney Love the public figure can’t take a backseat to her band Hole’s comeback third–or fourth–act. Since a not embarrassing appearance at SXSW and the uniformly unimpressed response to the new album, the media’s love affair with Love the walking entertainment blog fodder has kept her almost continuously in the newscycle: for dispensing fashion advice to WWD, for having a fling with a model, for that Behind the Music episode, for responding to the said MTV program, for, well, just having access to social media. At this point in her life the music that Love makes may never be able to compete with the life we may imagine her living. Which is too bad, because she can make some pretty compelling rock.

She merely hasn’t in many moons. The good thing about Nobody’s Daughter, the first Hole (read: Courtney Love solo) album in 12 years, is that it’s not 2004’s depressingly self-aware America’s Sweetheart. The bad? It’s also not a seismic blast that anybody still rooting for Love—yes, we exist—might’ve hoped for, a roaring return to form that would’ve let the singer/guitarist-turned-actress-turned-spectacle chalk one up in the “win” column with her middle finger. The silver lining? Push through all the pop polish, conventional guitar muck, and milquetoast songwriting, and there’s a smidgen of Love’s familiar complexities underneath that makes you hope she can live through this and once again deliver something that burns the metaphorical witch and brings back her head.

For this pair of ears, what has always made Love so unignorable is her unapologetic vulnerability: At her best, Love is profane, angry, defiant, sexual, contrary, abrasive, searching, and absolutely unconcerned with being demure, domesticated, docile—or any other word traditionally associated with feminine. She never lets you forget she’s a woman, but that’s less a biological given that a volatile state of flux. And the music backing her has always complimented that mix of anxiety and wonder.

That beguiling tension is what’s missing from Daughter. Sure, Love tosses off some good bits—”I’m overwrought and so disgraced/ And too ashamed to show my face” (“Pacific Coast Highway”), “I’ve pierced the last hole in my arm/ To gouge out the pieces of you” (“For Once in Your Life”), “I loathe every inch of you/ You’re going down for what you love” (“Loser Dust”)—but they’re packaged in superficial melodies, generic grunge guitars, or feckless mid-tempo acoustic guitars. Co-songwriter Linda Perry certainly has better pop ears than Love, but Perry can’t compliment Love’s jagged sensibilities or ragged voice.

Nothing against those acoustic mid-tempo numbers, though, because they also deliver the album’s two best moments, “Letter to God” and “Never Go Hungry.” The latter is a disarmingly jaunty quasi-folk, with Love in a resiliently confessional Dylan mold. “Letter to God,” though—despite the annoying Wyld Stallyns guitar wankery in the background and cliché setup—may be the best proof here that Love still has courage under her ire. It’s not only her most frank moment—”I never wanted to be some kind of comic relief,” she sings—but also her most unguarded performance. Throughout the album, Love’s delivery is mannered and controlled. She doesn’t have a great voice, but she used to embrace her warts/all rasp. On Daughter she frequently sounds like she’s trying too hard to sing instead of just letting the words come pouring out of her mouth because they have nowhere else to go. Save “Letter to God” where, about three minutes in, Love erupts with a series of entreats that culminates with “I’ve lost all self-esteem/ I’ve buried everything/ and I feel nothing, nothing”—those last two words the searing scream of a cornered animal pushed to fight or flight. If there’s more where this came from, by all means: Fight.

Hole plays the 9:30 Club June 27 with Foxy Shazam.

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  • The Misses

    I don't like her…At a recent concert, she called a black girl on stage during a concert only to say something like “you're black and you like rock music? That's like liking Kanye West”