t’s all about the music. It is all about the music. Courtney’s always been about the music as well, or at least the *artform* of music. Throwing yourself off of a stage to be cleansed by 500 people baying for your blood is as much a valid musical expression as a bass solo or a guest verse from David Banner. All of Hole’s output, all of the aborted Bastard project, the films, the private life… all of it is about the art, about art, about someone who cares so much for their art that it’s destroying them, the artist slowly driven insane because he can’t quite capture the sunset the way he sees it.
America’s Sweetheart sees its baptism into the marketplace alongside albums by new projects from two of Love’s longtime frienemies, Dave Grohl, who seems intent and content to become some sort of Kerrang endorsed variant of Ned Flanders, and Melissa Auf Der Maur, who was always pretty on the outside, if nowhere else. Courtney’s return, on the other hand, is as subtle as the firebombing of Dresden and twice as effective. It looks like a car crash in a Parisian underpass. But, of course, in every Parisian underpass car crash, you’ll find the body of a princess.
But, yeah, this is a music website, so we may as well look at the music. No, we should look at the music. I’m not going to rip you off here with a review of Courtney Love as a human being. You can fuck off to (insert other music review place here) for that. I’m gonna review Courtney Love as a musician. And, as a musician of such onstage confidence, Courtney’s always relied on a band, relied on normality, relied on a rock behind her. She’s never been totally confident in her ability, and, as such: Eric Erlandsson. The least charismatic man in rock history, he was never going to rock the boat, or take any attention away from Courtney. Do you have any idea what he’s doing now? He could be in G-Unit for all I know. Eric was always the Stan to Courtney’s Cartman, not necessarily a straight-man, but an ordinary man, and every man. When you’re dealing with something as unique and, heck, important as Courtney Love, you need a post to lean on now and again.
In her (strangely dated) biography of Ms. Love, Poppy Z. Brite points out how Courtney has always lived her life as if she was in a film, and for this section of her life, she’s had to do some drastic recasting. The most noticeable of these, perhaps the one person who can claim to be this album’s Eric, is Linda Perry. Her influence is plain, especially on opening track “Mono”, which at first sounds like a P!nk style pop-rockout, but on repeated listening reveals itself to be a bizarre parallel world where Eminem is Suzi Quattro, and this is “Without Me”. As a declaration of intent, it’s hard to find anything better: “Is this the part of the book that you wrote where I gotta come and save the day?”. It may have been Mathers that donned the superhero costume in his video, but there’s no doubt that its Courtney who is actually going to save souls here today. “Did you miss me?” she asks, flicking glitter all over the camera. And you keep on taking photos.
This is the sound of a woman finally comfortable in her celebrity. If Pretty On The Inside was the impregnation of Mary, Live Through This was the healing of the lepers and Celebrity Skin was the crucifixion, then this album is the Holy Spirit—walking through walls with the realisation that anything it does is going to astound you, because the messiah’s just come back from the dead. In a sense she doesn’t need to try, she does have this effortless ability to make you react (come on, try and say that you don’t even love or hate the girl. No, you can’t). She’s been to hell and back, and all its done is improve her tan.
For a woman who always seemed to be a bizarre perversion of femininity, a hook up with that guy who’s dad set up the Elite Modelling Agency makes a perfect, deranged, lipstick smeared over your party dress sense. “But Julian I’m A Little Bit Older Than You” is a perfect Casablancas-perve, more “He was just 17/ If you know what I mean” from “I Love Rock And Roll”, than “Maggie May”. It runs along tiara’d rioters, like sugar-crazed toddlers tormenting their supply teacher. The lyrics contain exclamation marks, and the lyrics “I see Paris/ I see France/ Oh I can see your underpants”, before going on to randomly reference The Clash and The Ramones, “gabba gabba hey”s and “London’s calling” all over the place, as our girl mocks Julian’s punka attitude, before stalking him. Of course, it isn’t Julian at all, but celebrity: Julian can be seen as everything Courtney isn’t, a man comfortable with celebrity from a stable background. “Mono” may contain the line “well they say that rock is dead”, but here Courtney sticks a spear into its side to make sure. She’s a little bit older than him, and a lot more experienced.
What else? “Sunset Strip” starts off like “More Than A Feeling”, which reflects the album’s, and Courtney’s, fascination with music history. Almost in the same way crate-digging DJs will hit you with their favourite drum fills, Courtney’s album is muddied with references to other bands. Hole’s original précis was to become something like Sonic Youth crossed with Fleetwood Mac, and America’s Sweetheart is the closest she’s come to creating that vision. Nearly all crossover rock acts are plagiarised on the album, and, in very much the same way all films can be improved by being set in space, all musical ideas can be improved by being done by Courtney Love. Even the “hello, hello, hello, hello” echoed on the album doesn’t sound so much like her dead husband, but rather just another trick up her sleeve.
Simply put, Courtney has finally become what she always wanted: the girl with the most cake—bloated on it, smearing chocolate sauce around the walls. She’s pulling the hair of the boys she finds attractive, and running away. A childlike naivety, when combined with a lifetime of experience, makes her the most essential celebrity we have in any field today, and one of the most essential musicians around today. “Rock star, pop star, everybody dies” she sings on “Sunset Strip”, but, damnit, the resurrections can be even better than the lives sometimes.
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2004-02-13