On Second Thought
Hole - Live Through This






for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

Has it really been ten years? Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America. Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa. O.J. Simpson, cruisin' down the highway in a white Ford Bronco. Forrest Gump. No World Series.

And lest we forget, that Nirvana guy shot himself. That's where our story really begins. For those not old enough to remember, it's hard to explain just how up in arms the youth of America and the pop music critical establishment were over this. There really hasn't been a comparable event in American popular culture since. Cobain appeared simultaneously on the covers of Rolling Stone, Spin and Newsweek, among others I can't remember offhand. MTV News ran coverage and commentary for at least 24 hours straight, Kurt Loder channeling Cronkite in '63 with a lump in his throat. Cobain's reputation as his generation's most important rock star was instantly solidified.

As was Courtney Love's as the world's most famous widow. The kids made pilgrimages to the Cobain’s Washington state home, and the missus obliged them by tearfully reading the suicide note for the cameras, interrupting herself periodically to interject angered exclamations and such. And to cynically plug her forthcoming album.

In April, Live Through This was released to unanimous acclaim. The raw honesty, they said, the cathartic screams. Here was the sound of America's late preeminent tormented soul's partner-in-suffering baring her scars for the world, and it was ugly, courageous, profound, inspiring.

Rubbish.

With the luckiest timing in history on her side, Ms. Love trotted out her Empress's New Clothes, a half-assed handful of underwritten demos, embarrassing teenage diary verse backed by thin, flaccid guitars and punchless drumming. Following the fashion of the day, she tunelessly croons the verses, predictably bellows the choruses, and watches the plaudits come rolling in.

By the end of the year, LTT's position at the top of every year-end best albums list was a foregone conclusion. A couple months later, DGC, Hole's label, took out a full-page ad in Billboard citing this fact, and chastising the Grammy’s for overlooking the mighty Hole. This represents the only time I can remember that anyone's given a rat's rear end about the Grammy’s. I mean, people bitch about getting jobbed by the Oscars every year, but the Grammy’s?! (Lest you think I'm praising the Grammy’s for their blissful ignorance, that was the year Tony Bennett won album of the year.)

But enough cranking. How's it hold up?

It's as bland as I remembered it. I sat and listened to this thing for the first time since its heyday, and its mediocrity is baffling. I assumed most people had forgotten about it, but judging by the rancor I drew from several of my fellow Stylus scribes when I pitched this piece, some people still listen to and revere this record. I honestly never would have guessed.

We open with "Violet," which actually isn't half-bad. Generic, but catchy. As I listened I wondered if I would wind up coming around to LTT, writing a big fat mea culpa. Wrong. Cue "Miss World." "I am the girl you know / I lie and lie and lie." I could let this slide if I thought it was a clever parody of crappy high school lyricism, a mean-spirited swipe at the Corey Flood’s of the world, but I don't buy that. I think Love means it, and it's embarrassing.

"Plump" has a decent enough riff, the kind that might anchor some third-rate garage band's one good song, but the formula starts wearing dangerously thin by "Jennifer's Body." At this point I began to think it may not be Hole's fault; the production is pretty bad. Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade have a lengthy list of fine records on their resumes, but their sound just doesn't seem to fit Hole's music. Enough with the strummy-ass rhythm guitars, guys, this needs to rock. I mean, listen to her screaming. You're telling me you couldn't find anything stronger to anchor that? Has anyone got Butch Vig's number?

The lyrics to "Doll Parts" helpfully scuttle that notion unequivocally.
Yeah, they really want you, they really want you
They really do
Yeah, they really want you, they really want you
But I do too
And this was a single, people. A hit. Have mercy.

Credit where credit's due for "Credit in the Straight World": it's a great choice for a cover, and a decent version of it. I even like the intro, with what I believe are Love's own lyrics. Cool melody, very haunting. Also, the last remotely memorable moment on the album.

Like most of their peers in the also-ran grunge-lite sweepstakes (Candlebox, Collective Soul, Dishwalla), Hole severely front-load their album, sequencing all the singles up front and leaving nothing for the second half. But hey, so does the great Nirvana on Nevermind. Ah, but the second half of Nevermind has material that matches up to and arguably surpasses the hits. LTT has nothing but filler, and not even enjoyable filler at that. I mean, seriously, if you still like this record, do you have any lesser-known favorites in the second half? "She Walks On Me" has a cute enough melody I suppose, but not so much that you'd want to listen to it again.

But she got away with it, and still does to this day. Courtney Love may have become more a pop culture punchline than a musician at this stage, but her one hollow triumph remains strangely revered. Do we have Kurt to blame for this? Who knows? Of course, as I'm writing this I see my esteemed colleagues have seen fit to vote Love's solo debut as one of this year's finest, and the charade continues. People, have we learned nothing in the decade past?



By: Bjorn Randolph
Published on: 2005-01-18
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