10 years. 10 YEARS. That’s how long it has been since Courtney Love put out the almost perfect rock album Celebrity Skin and proved she didn’t need Kurt Cobain’s ghost for her rock credentials. Behind all the loudmouth behaviour and garish David LaChapelle photos was someone who could actually nail (careful now) the very essence a rock song and if that album’s -Malibu’ isn’t the song that the electric guitar was invented to play then I don’t know what is.
The fear, of course, is what the last 10 years have done to Courtney, and Hole – with the line-up switching around completely. Well, we are delighted to inform you that NOTHING seems to have changed in the Love camp which is mercifully clear from the first minute of the opening title track. Full of glory, terror and drama – ‘but I need it’ as she herself concedes. Asphyxiation, drowning, digging graves; it’s Courtney even lower than the gutter but looking to the stars. The song’s bleak story is cloaked in a sound build of the DNA of guitar rock and when Ms. Love gets this right she sounds like she invented the genre. And she gets it right a lot.
Enjoying this album requires a certain peace made with some classic rock moves. For instance there’s the drawl that creeps in every now and again, there’s things like the line ‘people like you fuck people like me, just to avoid agony’ – coarse perhaps but if you believe Courtney really knows what she’s talking about (and hands up who doesn’t believe that) then you can accept it and just get into it. The Manics had a similar line in their song -Underdogs’ but it was very difficult to take James Dean Bradfield singing it – ’cause he’s too nice.
The ballads, especially ones with -Letter To God’ as the subject, are a little too much standing-on-a-mountain-with-an-acoustic-guitar and -Loser Dust’ is just lazy but it still plays on the red thread of Nobody’s Daughter which works as a subject for Courtney, now past her prime, looking back on past mistakes and not quite finding catharsis but noting “I’ve been there, and this is how it is”. The one thing that you really feel is that you’re getting the truth. It’s not some fresh-faced pretender writing about life at the bottom, about agony. You just believe her because it’s her.
The single -Skinny Little Bitch’ is definitely not the best track and you get the feeling of it being a record company idea of what people expect from Courtney. -Pacific Coast Highway’, however, is almost as good as -Malibu’ – -Honey’ and ‘Samantha’ also has her at her best giving it the full lash. Ms. Love can also pen a mean song – the guitars often hide the fact that there’s an well-written song underneath.
As a rock album, it’s deceptively straightforward and almost ageless in sound plus it plays to no fashions or fads. Love is able to combine the balls-out brashness of your classic rock band with an honest, fatalistic, feminine side. Accepted for what it is, it is one of the most honest rock albums in years. It’s not going to knock Celebrity Skin off the top of the list but it nestles in close all the same and continues from where we left off 10 years ago like nothing ever happened. Amen.