Friday, 28 March 2014

Why This is a Big Year for Brody Dalle

How does a good album get bad reviews?

Movies sometimes get slated for stupid reasons unrelated to their quality (like John Carter). I’ve never worked in the music industry, but I’m betting it’s the same deal.

Spinnerette 2009

Spinnerette’s self-titled album came out in 2009 and wasn’t well received. After The Distillers broke up, music journalists and fans wanted More Of The Same from frontwoman Brody Dalle, but her new project was a different thing. Perhaps people weren’t listening to Spinnerette with the right kind of ears. If you eat biscuits after using mouthwash they taste disgusting. Remember that, kids.

NME said things about the track ‘Cupid’ that were not accurate. I'm not reproducing it here because it was just nasty. It wasn't even a critique, it was a reaction to disappointment, the words sneered out between gritted teeth. You can’t type objectively with clenched fists.

I only recently discovered Brody Dalle’s music. I’d heard a little before, but not paid attention. That’s no reflection on her talent.

Spinnerette at Virgin Fest, Deer Lake Park in 2009
(image via Wikipedia)

I grew up listening to both punk rock and heavy metal in 1970s England, the decade and country of their birth. My teenage step brother introduced me to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath and the older boys I hung around with played a lot of punk and new wave. All on vinyl, of course, or cassette tapes. The soundtrack to my childhood was equal parts The Sex Pistols and The Muppets. I was making pocket money choices between Topps Star Wars trading cards and Buzzcocks singles. The Stranglers, The Boomtown Rats, Lene Lovich, Blondie, The Clash, Ian Dury were in Top 40, as well as Kate Bush, Abba, the soundtrack to Grease and a lot of disco. Electro-pop was still obscure, Tubeway Army were the exception, meanwhile prog-rock kept mostly to the album charts out of sight of the masses’. Punk appealed to me more at that age than the other music it was bumping shoulders with and gobbing at. I used to pogo at school discos. Jeremy Maidment wrote ‘fuck’ on the back of my jacket in felt-tip pen, but I was terrified my mum would see. I wasn’t a proper punk. I was eight years old. In my teens and twenties in the 1980s and 1990s I mostly listened to heavy metal and rock, then eventually what at the time we called ‘dark trance’, although now trance is something different. I just arrived in my mid-forties and I’ve dropped most of the metal, but intelligent, well made rock is still my favourite kind of music among a pretty eclectic mix.

The Distillers. Quite a long time ago.
(image via

I’ve caught the odd scraps of Distillers songs, that’s all. The recognisably American take on punk gave it more of a rock feel, but it didn’t draw me in. I didn’t know the difference between The Distillers and Spinnerette because I wasn’t paying attention. I knew Dalle had her own career and just happened to be Josh Homme’s missus. I only heard of her in the first place because of who she’s married to and it’s a damn shame because she’s worked hard not to be mistaken as someone coasting along on her husband’s shirt-tails. She plans to get where she’s going on her own merit.

If I had to choose a favourite band it would probably be Queens of the Stone Age, so at some point I was bound to hear Dalle’s music. I don’t like mentioning QotSA in this post because that’s what everyone does. This is just for context and to say that Like Clockwork, one of my all time favourite albums, grew on me little by little during a masterful publicity campaign until I finally realised just how much I loved it. Kind of like the way I fell for my wife.

It was my wife who first played Rated R to me in 2001, and she played Dalle’s single ‘Meet The Foetus’ to me a couple of weeks ago. I was a fan of Garbage years ago and I like Shirley Manson so I listened with interest, but I wasn’t blown away. I wouldn’t expect to be either, and maybe that’s what makes me different from music journalists. It was OK for a first listen and I hung around looking to see if Dalle was playing guitar or bass, so, obviously, I knew nothing about her at that point. That was actually a good thing, that’s what this post is mainly about.

I don’t instantly like most things. When I do I usually haven’t noticed the flaws yet. Flaws and imperfections aren’t the same. Flaws get in the way, imperfections make a thing unique and may take a little learning to appreciate. When I grow to love something it’s because of it’s imperfections, not despite them.

(image via Gigwise)

TV shows that I’ve grown to love have taken me three episodes before I got them. By five or six episodes I’m hooked. I have to nurture my empathy for the characters. When I care about them I’ll see the nuances that make that show stand out from all the others.

Food or alcohol that I love is rarely a first-try deal. I like gin, but the first time I drank it I only suffered its botanical peculiarity to get me through a surreal three-day convention of erotica. I was working on a friend’s stall selling old film posters left over from the 1970s British fad of sex comedies. The dissonance of hardcore imagery and near-naked glamour models in an atmosphere empty of intimacy and honesty made my head spin. All the women workers I spoke to found their customers annoying or even repugnant. Everything was just for show and the smiles were plastered on. So much sex, yet nothing sexy at all. Gin helped, but it wasn’t until twenty years later I found myself choosing it over beer.

Lovely Hendrick's, they even make a tea set to go with it.
(image via Wikipedia)

Many of my favourite songs did nothing for me the first time I heard them. Why does this happen? Why do we take time to like things? Because have expectations to overcome, pre-conceptions to discard; we have to lose the pre-packaged context we bring to the party before we hear, see or taste anything other than what we expected. Maybe we just put a new frame around the picture that feels more comfortable. We can’t completely lose the filters we’ve spent our lives setting up so maybe by spending time on something we cycle through a few filters until we find one that fits.

Spinnerette, in the end, caught my attention with a hat, bleached-out lighting, meticulous make up and a lopsided downwards-sneer to the left.

Screen cap from Ghetto Love

After watching the video I found myself humming the tune a lot. 

Catchy much?

I went back and played it again a few more times. I listened to the album frequently. I bought it. I listened to Coral Fang and took an interest in Brody Dalle as a musician and songwriter, reading and watching interviews and checking for tour dates. I liked what she said and how she said it. Dalle and her husband seem like very smart, wise people and I can’t help but like them.

Then I started hearing that Spinnerette had been badly received. I won’t quote any more here, the reviews I read don’t deserve it. They were petulant diatribes that delighted in hurling thinly-veiled insults at Dalle. They painted a ludicrous picture of a woman who had lost her talent because she grew up.  They described her life between albums as empty space, her time in the studio spent decorating, her music backward-facing by fifteen years. Even if the sexism hadn’t tipped me off, it’s plain to see the poor reviews came from punk fanboys lashing out like jilted lovers at their fantasy woman who dared to move on. They wanted the iconic sweaty black hair, smeared make up and fire-breathing vocals and didn’t care that it came with a self-destruct sequence that was already well under way. People who don’t change are dead. Pitchfork called the album a “perplexing project” and that sums up their problem. Perplexing to a Distillers fan maybe, but for me coming to it from the angle I did it’s a very good album.

Distillers days

I read Dalle’s responses, her own take on the album, reasons for not continuing as Spinnerette and choosing to record under her own name, and her descriptions of her circumstances when she wrote the songs. I read about how The Distillers broke up and their aborted attempt to get back together, and why Dalle now feels she’s moved on. The tracks on Spinnerette were written while Dalle was depressed and into some heavy drug use. The lyrics of one of my favourites shows that plainly enough.

Caught lust, tie a noose around my neck
It's the unexplained that gets you when you obsess
I believed saying the truth would change the way that I felt
Lying to God ain't easy, when you're already in debt

So long my friend
We'll never meet again
I tried so hard to stay
It's too late for me

If all the love in this world isn't enough
Where do you go? Who do you trust?
I find myself wrapped in the arms of emptiness
I can't stop running away, can't find a place to exist

So long my friend
We'll never meet again
I tried so hard to stay
It's too late for me

I understand where these songs came from, I can glimpse the person who wrote them. People who come back from life-destroying addictions have scars that tell us stories about the human condition.

So what’s my point here? Just this: an artist moves on.

Because people change.
(image via Last FM)

Reviewers and fans expected the old Dalle from The Distillers and they found something else. They heard sounds that reminded them of 90s pop-rock like Garbage, maybe because Manson and Dalle both have deep, powerful voices. They were reminded of something from the past so to them the sound was out of date. I disagree. Dalle’s punk rage had given way to a production-heavy ride through a range of styles. Her versatility surprised me, her complexity as a performer and songwriter surprised me. She says the album contains a bit of everything, including the kitchen sink and I wonder if she says it like it’s a bad thing, because what I hear is a solid collection of songs. Sex Bomb might not seem to share much DNA with The Walking Dead, I don’t care. There are themes and riffs that pull the album together. There’s no need for a tight and tidy package showing us what we already knew she could do. This is the album of a woman pushing herself past the boundaries she’d set for herself years before; it’s a butterfly’s first flight out of the chrysalis. Or maybe a big scary blood-red moth.

Columbia silk moth
(image from

Brody Dalle the solo-artist is a different thing again to Spinnerette. With uncanny timing, I got into Spinnerette just as Dalle started releasing singles for Diploid Love. I went looking for an explanation of why she went solo. Dalle says Spinnerette, a complex studio album, doesn’t work live and that may be all there is too it. Elsewhere she said she wants to be happy and live a happy life. I doubt that would happen if she was touring with songs about suicide and drug addiction. She’s moved on from that time, that sound and that album. I’m dealing with it.

Diploid Love (released April 2014)

The Cover to Diploid Love shows Dalle grown up. Messy yet clean hair, head thrown back in a classic belligerent punk pose dressed in consciously non-punk1950s clothes. Her mouth open but not sneering. She might be inviting you in or telling you to fuck off. Maybe both. She’s doing things how she wants to, combining and transcending her roots and influences.

She’s come a long way since The Distillers. What do you expect? Brody Dalle is not preserved in aspic. She’s not a marble statue carved in 2004. She isn’t the torchbearer of 21st Century punk. Her career isn’t a museum exhibit. A 24 year old punk became a 35 year old mother of two and hasn’t lost one ounce of talent in the process. It’s not her responsibility to keep a genre alive. Artists who give fans what they want are betraying themselves and walking a path to nowhere. Culture on demand is no culture at all, it’s pastiche, it’s lip-service. Soulless and stale. Artists create, they don’t obey orders.


I’m excited about Diploid Love, even though from what I’ve heard so far it’s a big departure from Spinnerette. I have a feeling this is going to be a good year for Dalle and that her music will get a lot of attention. This isn’t her first flight out of the cocoon, this is solo Dalle with her wings flexed and tested. My advice, and this goes for experiencing anything new, is to lose your expectations and open your mind as wide as that fucker goes, then settle back and enjoy the ride.

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