Release Date: Apr 29, 2014
Record label: Caroline
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
If there was any wonder as to what the former mastermind behind both The Distillers and the short-lived Spinnerette has been up to since those acts’ final records, the title of Brody Dalle’s debut solo LP, ‘Diploid Love’, all but gives it away. Now pretty much full-time in both motherhood and rock ‘n roll, the firebrand guitarist has teamed up with a veritable gang of pals to create an album that’s pulls no less punches than her earlier work – if a little more thoughtful. ‘Don’t Mess With Me’, lyrics such as “I’m a sure-fire assassin” (‘Rat Race’) and the thunderous riffs of ‘Underworld’, there’s plenty of proof that signature bite is still present and correct.
Brody Dalle has taken her time releasing her debut solo album, which isn't surprising considering she's gone through half a dozen rock bands, a crystal-meth addiction, childhood sexual abuse, motherhood and an acrimonious rock'n'roll marriage break-up. On Diploid Love she seems to holding back that restive mix of life circumstances with one hand, while raising a middle finger in unremitting defiance with the other. She's dealt with some of those issues on records before, but unlike her output in the Distillers, Diploid Love is a cleaner listen that has more in common with her husband Josh Homme's band, Queens of the Stone Age, than with her earlier grunge influences.
The passionate, raspy-voiced punk Brody Dalle has always known how to use anarchic guitars to cloak a massive hook, whether in her great band the Distillers or her follow-up, Spinnerette. With her solo debut (and first release after a five-year break), she experiments with new styles – piano-based power ballads, anyone? There's plenty of chaos and roiling guitars, too, but adulthood has crept in. On the phenomenal "I Don't Need Your Love," Dalle lets her voice flicker to an airy glow, with jittery strings providing the tension guitars might have in the past.
When an artist slips off the radar it can elicit one of two responses – total apathy or a frustrating sense of loss. The absence of Brody Dalle following the release of 2009’s Spinnerette album cut deep. Her musical time-out not only turned a glaring spotlight onto the massive, female-shaped gap in the contemporary punk landscape but also deprived us of a truly great, brutally badass talent for almost half a decade.
On the Distillers' Coral Fang and Spinnerette's self-titled album, Brody Dalle took baby steps toward tempering her punk rock fire without snuffing it out completely. She completes the journey on her solo debut, Diploid Love, which, from its biologically inspired title on down, reflects motherhood's impact on her life and music ("I Don't Need Your Love" even samples recordings of her children). It's fitting, then, that these songs are something of a creative rebirth, balancing the Distillers' catharsis and Spinnerette's poppier approach with a more controlled attack.
Once, Aussie LA transplant Brody Dalle was the girl most likely to out-Love Courtney Love. She played rugged guitar in her own punk outfit, the Distillers, who eventually dissolved in a fog of crystal-meth addiction. Spinnerette, Dalle's last outlet, were too indebted to Queens of the Stone Age (same studio, married to the singer). Dalle's first record under her own name recalibrates bravely.
You could argue that Diploid Love isn’t the first solo Brody Dalle album at all. She’s sort of been making them her whole career. Back when she was with the Distillers, Dalle was the only member to actually appear on all three of their LPs, while follow up outfit Spinnerette felt like solo material in everything but name. In which case, we’re led to ask: why has Dalle – five years since her last new music – reintroduced herself under her own name? Listening to Diploid Love, it’s tempting to think that she’s inviting a critical re-evaluation of her work.
There are influences and then there are blatant rip-offs. Why anyone in their right mind would consciously choose to imitate Courtney Love is somewhat of a mystery; there is, after all, already the original. Also, while it’s perfectly understandable that some people begin their music career by idolising (and to an extent copying) their idols, most artists develop their own style over the course of their career and normally find their own ‘voice’.
Brody Dalle was once seen as a punk rock pioneer for her work with The Distillers, breathing blistering screams and vivid lyricism over hooks that demeaned romantic manipulation and serving up seductively sharpened guillotine blades to intimidate. She was compared to crazed frontwomen, like Karen O, and embodied the template of the genre, from her dark wardrobe to ear-ringing guitar hooks, making music that was contagious, exhilarating, and dirty. Her identity as a strong woman was something worth bleeding for (as evidenced by the cover of 2003’s Coral Fang, featuring a crucified woman), her boundless energy pushed to the point of vocal cord destruction.
Brody Dalle's first solo album begins with a bang: three blistering robo-punk songs, delivered rat-tat-tat as if to demonstrate that the former frontwoman of L.A.'s Distillers, a band once tipped to become the next Hole, hasn't mellowed since we last heard from her. (The title of "Don't Mess With Me" gets this across too.) In terms of sonic attack, "Diploid Love" levels off a bit from there, with lower-key tunes that layer ringing piano over crisp machine beats ("Carry On") and recall Garbage's polished grunge pop ("Dressed in Dreams"). This is a modal window.
For music fans of a certain age, Brody Dalle will always be best known as the sneering, mohawked frontwoman of the Distillers. On her long-awaited solo debut, echoes of that band's aggressive gravel-punk crop up on the Ramones-esque "Underworld" and the smoky pogo "Don't Mess With Me." However, Diploid Love is an impressively diverse collection; the album encompasses blitzkrieg power-pop (the horn-peppered "Rat Race"), Portishead-like piano brooding ("I Don't Need Your Love") and burned-out stoner rock ("Blood In Gutters"). While several songs do need an editor—"Dressed In Dreams" in particular drags quite a bit—the record's honesty and vulnerability are inspiring.
Diploid Love seems like a pretty abstract name for a record; at first, I wondered if it was selected as a non-sequitur, something designed simply to sound good rather than carry any profound meaning. On closer inspection, though, it’s fitting that there should be a subtle reference to child-rearing in the title of Brody Dalle’s first solo record (the diploid cell contains two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. ) I’ve little doubt that, back in her heyday with The Distillers, you’ve have gotten long odds on Dalle ever shunning rock and roll for a considerably more conventional home life, but that seems to be the short version of what she’s been up to since her last band, Spinnerette, released their one and only album back in 2009.