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.
Since then, Dalle’s voice has scabbed, healed, and developed, showing not only a more mature musician, but more importantly, a happier person, wife, and mother. It makes sense, then, that Diploid Love, Dalle’s return after a five-year hiatus, doesn’t just soundtrack her marriage to Josh Homme, but also a love for herself. Before the release of Dalle’s most acclaimed album, Coral Fang, drug addiction and abusive relationships sunk her into a deep depression, crashing her musical performance and sanity. Her recovery has resurrected some of these memories, which both positively and negatively influence the album. Dalle knows how far she’s come but doesn’t want to accept all the credit. There are things that need forgetting, too.
Her best strokes balance the chemical reactions of inventive imagery and dark secrets that come back to haunt her. But it’s nothing that she can’t defeat. The instrumental performance, assisted at different points by members of The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age, Warpaint, and others, incorporates a few new tricks into her electric intensity to make things interesting, as on the mariachi guitar conclusion of “Underworld”. Dalle shines brightest through her poetic hand, as on “Blood in Gutters”: “Killing us slow, chemical wrath/ So suffer the madness, cling to the birth/ Of a new era, to hell with our worth.” Her vocals are relentless here, drawing near-exclusive focus, the rocker’s recovery seeming deceptively easy.
A return to Dalle’s punk roots provides the most rewarding takeaway from Diploid Love, especially when it’s backed by a legend like Garbage’s Shirley Manson. In a nontraditional turn, though, Dalle’s dedication is to motherhood. Dalle and Manson’s collaboration on “Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy” engraves this mission directly on their hearts, shouting, “They’ll never tear my love apart/ Because you live inside my heart.” She continues this with metaphors of “crowning endlessly” on “Underworld”, taking her mission to a new level, hoping to give birth to a whole new world of rock and roll.
In an interview with NME, Dalle discussed both the challenges of writing while caring for a two-year-old and how her songwriting has changed: “In The Distillers, I feel like I didn’t have anything to say, so I concentrated on political, social issues. These days, it’s more personal?” Her sentence ends with uncertainty, and Diploid Love shows that same waiver in its straightforward rock tracks. She often settles for generics when lamenting “the loneliest places” on the falsetto-heavy “I Don’t Need Your Love”, or “[making] it all real” on “Dressed in Dreams”. That lack of momentum makes her sound like she has something to prove. Dalle has never had to say, “Don’t mess with me” before; the sneer would say it for her.
Dalle’s music with The Distillers looked ahead for specific change and victory. As evidenced by “Carry On”, Diploid Love wants to forget the struggles: “I am ready to be free from the past and move on.” Many musicians seek renewal through spelling out their struggles with an imaginative pen. Dalle’s return performance, no matter how energetic and strong musically, lacks the lyrical details to latch onto. Handling one’s demons can bring back nightmares beyond comprehension, but it’s always for the better. Refusal can limit recovery — and sometimes creativity.
Essential Tracks: “Underworld”, “Blood in Gutters”