Welcome Back, Courtney Love
Room, meet the rhinoplastied elephant in a tutu. To address the new Hole record, Nobody's Daughter, without considering Courtney Love's chaos-prone reputation—the "Courtney Love Monster," as she recently described it on Twitter—is to analyze the recent health care bill without acknowledging Barack Obama. It's impossible not to be distracted by the circular chorus of "Samantha," a slow-burning rager co-written by Billy Corgan that substitutes curse words for handclaps: "People like you FUCK!/People like me FUCK!/People like you FUCK!/People like me!" These four lines repeat, at various intervals, four times, bringing the track's final F-word count to 23, and raising the question: Who are these people like "you" or "me," exactly? Even Love admits that, unlike "friend" Stevie Nicks, she finds it impossible to disentangle herself from her lyrical narrators. "It's me," the 45-year-old recently told Amazon. "If it's 'Samantha,' it's probably me."
So let us consider who people like Courtney Love might be. Someone whose husband's suicide is the 9/11 of modern rock? Someone who once thus enjoyed global goodwill and national sympathy, but then squandered it in spectacularly public fashion? Someone whose legendarily combative personality is as polarizing as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or someone who overdoses on Oxycontin in front of her daughter and has generally cultivated a reputation as the Tasmanian Devil's Ambien-woozy girlfriend? Should we even get into who the "you" fucking her might be?
Let's not. At one point, there was a feminist-studies doctoral thesis on the notion that Courtney Love was the rock-'n'-roll Hillary Clinton: a strong, shrewd, icily ambitious woman who used her tumultuous, high-profile marriage as a professional catapult, wielded a powerful relentlessness and stereotypically masculine calculation, and therefore got labeled a bitch with balls. Hell, they both also found themselves conspiracy-theorist targets in allegedly suspicious suicides and begot only-child daughters whom the tabloids openly pitied. But that was the '90s. It's two presidents and countless major-label failures later. Hillary Clinton is now Secretary of State. And Love? She's currently a court-deemed unfit parent who still urinates with the door open in the company of an AP reporter and fronts a band named Hole.
Yet we are still paying attention. (OK, I am.) And Nobody's Daughter's snarling, grunge-revival lead single, "Skinny Little Bitch," makes it easy to remember why, evoking everything Hole once stood for: self-tortured vanity and the punk-rock girl pummeling the prom queen. The track's iTunes art is a bloody glass slipper; the song itself advances the belief that all Cinderella ever really wanted was to kick the shit out of her deserving stepsisters. Credit nostalgia, if you like, but it's a truly fantastic Hole song.
But this Hole is not the Hole you, or anyone, remembers. No Lurch-by-way-of-Thurston guitar-slayer Eric Erlandson. (He's pissed.) No ginger-pixie four-stringer Melissa Auf Der Maur. (She's solo.) No erstwhile bassist Kristen Pfaff. (She's dead.) You might be tempted to brace the band's name with quotes—go ahead. Her Holeness doesn't care. "We are Hole whether you like it or not, you little suck shits," she spat at this band's first U.S. show at SXSW in March, draped in a yellow sash reading "BEWARE."
This Hole actually has no other women—just three men joined by an occasional touring fourth. The guy who matters most is Micko Larkin, a British guitarist/occasional roommate who has emerged as Love's even-keeled foil and possible saving grace. Nobody's Daughter, the first Hole release since 1998's Celebrity Skin, began five years ago with Love scribbling songs in rehab, where she went after flashing David Letterman on the air while her fairly terrible 2004 solo record, America's Sweetheart, tanked. Collaborations with ex-lover Corgan and producer/pop doctor Linda Perry started and stopped in reportedly dramatic fits; Skin producer Michael Beinhorn eventually stepped in. But when Love, who swears she only takes prescribed drugs now, decamped to New York ("Fuck that goddamn desert," she says of Los Angeles), Larkin took over. The 23-year-old is now a credited co-songwriter on five songs—nearly all the best ones, too. Without him, it's likely Nobody's Daughter would be Nobody's Record.
But if the result belongs to anybody, it's the Courtney Love Monster. "Skinny Little Bitch" isn't about any of the singer's many adversaries (Lily Allen, Madonna, Mary Lou Lord)—it's about when the Monster shape-shifted into an anorexic cokehead. The beast's genesis is also sketched in the Martha Wainwright–assisted title track, an arresting raised-lighter lament that Love has said reflects both her story and Frances Bean's peculiar situation: "Nobody's daughter, she never was, she never will/Be beholden to anyone she cannot kill." (Love's mother, therapist Linda Carroll, published a 2006 tell-all called Her Mother's Daughter—this is a hostile denial.) We also get to escort the Monster on a walk of shame home from "Someone Else's Bed."
"Play this recording very very loud please," beg the record's liner notes—this is very good advice. Otherwise, you will probably hate the rest of it. Love has made a career by lashing out—few women in rock have told the world to fuck off with such cathartic abandon—and yet aside from the punk pogo "Loser Dust," the rest of Daughter lacks that profound aggression, which is the whole reason we—OK, again, I—loved this crazy lady in the first place. Instead, we get a litany of annoying rock ballads and anguished modern-rock pap, plus one extremely ill-advised affectation: Just as fellow recovering addict Eminem inexplicably adopted a Jamaican patois on 2009's Relapse, here Love cops Bob Dylan's folk-codger cadence on at least four songs.
It's absolutely bizarre, bordering on self-parody, like Julianne Moore's Boston accent on 30 Rock, except serious. Through headphones, it's nearly unbearable, though during a mid-April listening party at Fall Out Boy–affiliated bar Angels & Kings, that feigned nasal rasp didn't sound so bad. But the joint's speakers couldn't save the despairing soliloquy "Letter to God"—woof. Linda Perry supposedly wrote this as a sequel to Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," but it sounds like a cruel prank, with Love the too-proud Emperor, Perry the swindling weaver, and this heaven-sent telegram sewn from a brilliance everyone else is allegedly too stupid to see. It reminds me of Kermit the Frog's "It's Not Easy Being Green."
See Hole live. You will be entertained. Don't worry: They'll play much of what you want to hear, including the exhilaratingly perfect scream-along "Violet"; the fist-pumping, trash-culture-skewering "Celebrity Skin"; and, if you're lucky, the enraged, Kim Gordon–produced triumph "Pretty on the Inside." Nor will Love not disappoint with her reliably loony onstage banter: At that SXSW performance, the widow Cobain concluded Daughter's "Pacific Coast Highway" thus: "I like that song. It reminds me of sex. You know, fucked-up hate sex. Like when you punch. You guys know what I'm talking about, when you fuck someone and then you PUNCH them right in the middle of it: 'I fucking hate YOOUUUUUU! Yeah, this is so good, OK, baby, FUCK YOU!' "
Courtney Love "is the girl who won't shut up," Deborah Frost wrote in these pages back in 1992. "She is all the things that should not be, and she shoves it, raw, right in your face." Chaos begets chaos theory, and in 18 years, nothing about her has really changed—and that is exactly the point.
Hole play Terminal 5 April 27 and 28. Both shows are sold out.
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