Look. I don’t care about the Tim Armstrong-Brody break up that turned into a nasty public spat with fans taking one side or the other. I can’t believe anyone cares about that kind of shit.
I don’t care that Brody is married to Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age either, even though every fucking male reviewer or interviewer has to bring it up when discussing Brody’s new album. She could be married to a giraffe for all I care. I think the men bring it up because they think it gives Brody more credibility with the audience to be married to a marginally famous rock star and because they’re trying to introduce some juicy gossip into their copy.
Brody herself has disclosed details of a horrific childhood with sexual abuse and self-immolation. While I feel bad she went through all that, it’s not going to win her any pity points from me anymore than Billie Holiday will when I get to her review. The only thing that matters and the only thing that should matter is how the artist translates personal experience into music. If what comes out is something that should have been left in the therapy room, that’s not art, that’s the message of a person imbued with an overwhelming sense of self-importance.
Are you listening, Yoko?
In addition to having to put up with still-pissed-off Rancid fans who surf the web for Brody Dalle coverage and make ample use of the comment feature to repeat their accusations that she is a manipulative cunt, Brody also has to deal with the fact that she has become impure in the eyes of the guardians of punk by introducing diverse instrumentation into songs that last longer than three minutes. They beat the hell out of her for the Spinerette album, and based on a glance at the Amazon reviews for Diploid Love, she’s still considered something of a traitor to the cause.
I think that’s nonsense. Punk isn’t about instrumentation and rules, it’s about freedom, rebellion and calling bullshit on bullshit. Great punk is a truth-seeking missile that attempts to strip away the extraneous, the phony, the pretense. While spare arrangements may facilitate that effort, truth comes in many forms, and what matters more is whether or not the artist is getting to the core of the matter instead of trying to dazzle us with hokum. Brody Dalle may not have put it all together on Diploid Love, but I’m absolutely convinced that she is as real as she can be and, most importantly, she still has one of the greatest voices in rock.
“Rat Race” is a throbbing, driving warm-up that develops into a fairly dense arrangement with horns added to the mix. The lyrics express the desire to blow the humdrum to smithereens, and Brody alternates between occasionally dissonant vibrato in the early verses to full-throated release in the chorus. The layers of sounds that surround her on this track is not overkill, but a very effective device that turns her voice into a beacon of sanity in the mindless muddle of daily life. My favorite part is the throttled-down passage just before the climax where she sings in an introverted voice, “I’m gonna cut the cord to the man who holds me down under him (2)/I’m gonna cut the cord to the man, set me free, rule my world again.” She’s not talking about a domineering husband, but “the man” who still rules in our male-dominated society, the conglomerate of institutions whose existence depends on keeping the rat race going.
“Underworld” combines furious punk drumming and ripping bass runs with . . . mariachi? Sounds weird, but The Bronx went mariachi on their alter ego Mariachi El Bronx records, and Brody’s decision to bring them in was truly inspired. The essence of the song is the repetition of “Ouroboros” between the verses, the symbol of the serpent swallowing its tail, the self-reflexive act of regeneration. As in “Rat Race,” Brody finds her soul depleted by the soulless world that surrounds her, and longs for experience closer to the life-force:
All things were, are, will be out of one,
Through one and to one
All things were, are, will be
To be crowning endlessly
Experience every land and sea
I want to Love you inside me
Forever mine, primordially
The mariachi sound is hinted at as the song progresses at a thunderous pace, and when the thunder dies down and we hear the sound of the intensely rhythmic guitar and the smooth trumpets, you feel the delight of the creative spark along with a very strong visual impression of warm Mexican nights with bougainvillea cascading all around you.
It is written that the young Brody Dalle fell in love with the voices of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, and modeled her vocal approach after them. What I hear is much closer to Cobain at his best and light years ahead of Courtney Love’s scenery-chewing, often pointless screaming. Like Cobain, Brody can sustain a long note while holding the growl so that you hear hard-edged melodic richness. She finally gets to stretch her vocal cords on “Don’t Mess with Me,” the classic let’s-kick-ass number on the album. Brody sings the opening verses with cheeky confidence and a don’t-fuck-with-me sneer, but when she gets to the bridge and lets her voice soar on “I got the feeling I can BREAK,” every cell in my body shivers in excitement. It’s the sound of my lover crying out in a moment of pure intensity; it’s a sound that comes from deep in a soul who has lived long enough to go through some very heavy shit. The voice is perfectly suited for the message of resistance and rebellion at the core of the song:
I got the feeling I can break out of anything that is standing in my way
I know the feeling, I can take the pain of losing teeth is better than defeat
I got the feeling I can let go, because it means that much to me, to show you so
You’re the reason I can stay and fight until the death, ‘cos what I stand for will not give up
Brody continues in high-intensity mode in “Dressed in Dreams,” a mid-tempo number with heavy bass where her vocal moves from the depths of exhaustion and despair to a passionate self-affirming message of hope and forward movement. The ascent of the transformation in her voice is both remarkable and moving, captured in lines that serve as both a message to herself and to anyone who has lost their sense of direction:
I’ve come so far and gone so low
I’ve fallen in decay
Always try to find a way out and up to better days
Are waiting for me
And I will come dressed up in dreams
Never let yourself give in
When you’re trying to start again
Put on your dreams and let’s go
I won’t give up at all
I want the freedom to dream the impossible
I will make it real
Her voice frigging soars over another intense arrangement, as if singer and music are drawing life from each other, like mother and child.
Suddenly the world goes quiet with the piano chord introduction to “Carry On,” a quiet that is soon replaced by electronic beats and a low-key, lower register vocal. Brody moves off that rather quickly to let her voice rise in the chorus, but without the roughness in the earlier tracks. The weakness of the song is that the theme is too close to the theme of “Dressed in Dreams” to make this it stand out.
What follows requires a bit of background and a spot of critical disclosure. Diploid Love is named for the thing created when male chromosomes meet female chromosomes and begin to make a baby. Brody has had two now, and has described the experience as a life-changer, as it is for many women. I’ll disclose my bias here by saying I’ve never been pregnant and never hope to be pregnant, but I recognize and respect that some women develop maternal urges. My mother didn’t want children either, but once I was starting to blossom in her uterus, she bought into motherhood hook, line and sinker, something I’ll tell you about when I get to the Françoise Hardy review in this series.
On “Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy,” Brody tries to capture the experience of holding a life inside one’s body. The track opens with a bass-heavy, dark-toned soundscape that reminds you of something Bjork might have done during her peak years. As the song moves forward, we notice that the patterns on verse and chorus sound like pieces from two different songs: the dark-palette verse is in the key of F major while the tender, pop-melodic chorus is in the key of A major. There is a method to the madness: the darker verses reflect the darkness and mysterious biological processes that take place inside the womb while the more joyful chorus is the expression of the enveloping tenderness of a mother’s love:
You have sailed through the eye of my needle
A perfect parasite burgeoning Eden
You and I, in DNA, you’ll never get away
Shot through the heart Baby
I’m gonna love you forever
When they take me away
You know I’ll love you forever
I’ll come down from skies above stars
I’ll watch over you
Shot through the heart Baby
I’ll always love you forever
The “Oh the Joy” passage is grounded in a classic punk background of bash and distortion, over which Brody’s voice weaves together with the “girl gang” of Shirley Manson and Emily Kokal in a exhilarating display of feminine power. For some reason, the sound and style of this segment reminded me of the Bulgarian folk music I have learned to love, and lo and fucking behold, I found an interview with Brody on Silent Radio where she confesses to the same curious attraction! I have some pretty unusual passions, but this is the first time I’ve stumbled across anyone who has even heard of the Bulgarian Women’s Voice Choir, and damn if Brody doesn’t think they’re the bees knees, too. The integration of Bulgarian influences on “Oh, the Joy” was as inspired as the mariachi integration on “Underworld.”
“Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy” should have probably been saved for the album’s closer in part because of its strength and in part because the three songs that close the album are a mixed bag. While I love Brody’s muffled falsetto on “I Don’t Need Your Love,” this “fuck you” to her father is one that needs more work in the therapy room. Unlike Neko Case, who was consistently able to transform personal trauma into universal art on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Brody fails to make the connection between her experience and ours, a problem often heard in Sinéad O’Connor’s work. The addition of a passage where an infant is engaged in joyous laughter, while well-executed, is a limp attempt to remind the father of what he missed by abandoning his child, and comes across as someone trying to impose her personal truth on another, like Health Nazis tend to do after they kick all their bad habits.
“Blood in the Gutters” is a dark mood piece that feels like an incomplete thought, an idea that needed more time to come to fruition. Brody is in fine belt out-mode during on the “Find your weakness and kill it” chorus, and the music in that segment has a twisted feel that’s quite interesting, but the whole is less than satisfying. The album ends with “Parties for Prostitutes,” a song that Brody characterized as a personal experience that she doesn’t want to talk about. The lyrics aren’t particularly helpful beyond describing a picture of betrayal and cowardly deceit, so the story never comes together into something the listener can embrace. The melody is lovely and memorable, and I do like the use of the Mellotron here, but I find the inserted distortion superfluous and distracting. Beneath the defects, though, this is fundamentally a strong piece, and I’d love to hear it live.
I missed that opportunity when Brody (and Queens of the Stone Age) appeared here last month at the Rock en Seine festival while I was partying and fucking in Sweden. They were easily the strongest rockers in a pretty weak lineup that featured losers like Lana del Rey and an ancient version of Blondie, and I wasn’t particularly thrilled about attending a festival in the sticky humidity of Paris in August. Still, all the live performance videos I’ve seen clearly indicate that Brody Dalle is a compelling and exciting performer, so I do have a twinge of regret.
Diploid Love is Brody’s first solo effort, and while it’s far from perfect, most maiden solo efforts aren’t. What she does establish is that she’s not afraid of taking risks, is willing to experiment with sounds beyond the obvious and has enormous potential as a songwriter once she develops the capability to make her work less about “me” and more about “us.” She’s still growing as a person and as an artist, and one thing I really love about Brody Dalle is that she’s both an advocate for and a model of female potential. You combine that with one of the most beautiful and powerful voices in rock and you have an artist who has a long way to go and a lot of great music to make.