A Terrible Beauty

That said, funny how Celebrity Skin, like plenty of the year's other important work--Lucinda Williams's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Billy Bragg and Wilco's Woody Guthrie score Mermaid Avenue, the Beastie Boys single "Intergalactic"--is a tribute to cultural consensus. All of them have been cooked but not overcooked, by artists and engineers who understand the appeal of punk (or the edge as they define it) and pop equally well. On some level, we're overdue for another convulsion. But I'm not going to listen to Korn for penance, or argue with programmable pleasurability, especially when unique intelligences are essential to this particular style of searing in the juices. The only record of note besides Hole's to rock out so blissfully this year is Pearl Jam's Yield, and Eddie Vedder's mind just doesn't race as fast as Courtney's. It's nice to have her back for a while.

Not that there's any reason to expect her to stay. At home in almost as many social realms as LL Cool J, following Madonna's path from street urchin to society mogul, her cred now centers around her immersion in the mainstream, not the demimonde--only when she lives through it, the mainstream becomes a demimonde. Where Madonna programs and performs spectacle, Love aestheticizes it, seemingly off the cuff--a sweet-and-sour banquet played off against the new album's hyperproduction. An inhabitor of chaos, wisecracking and kickboxing through every moment, she fashions lyricism out of the flux: among current rockers, only Stephen Malkmus does more with changes of pronoun, word substitutions in later verses, all the little things that keep perspective whipsawing. What provides better raw material, his miles and miles of style ("and it's wasted") or her miles and miles of perfect skin ("I fit right in")? I hope this tabloid punk never loses her yen to experience new feelings of repugnance. That way she can cough it back up as needed. Spews from the muse.

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