Hole

Live Through This
Celebrity Skin


Live Through This (DGC ‘94) Rating: A-
Most reviews of this album I've read concentrated on either Courtney Love’s famous former husband or her seemingly uncontrollable knack for making a complete fool of herself in public. However, though I think she’s a headline hungry opportunist and that Kurt Cobain did influence this album, when all is said and done all I really care about is the 38 minutes of music here, which holds its own against the vast majority of albums in the “alternative” glutted market of that year. Besides, it’s not like she hides her ambitions or her influences. In “Doll Parts,” she states “I want to be the girl with the most cake,” while the fast/slow (pretty/ugly) dynamics of most of these songs apes probably the single most distinctive trait of Nirvana. Most of the album's intense rockers contain pretty acoustic bridges that show the band's songwriting advancements since their primitive riot grrrl debut Pretty On The Inside. Conversely, almost all of the mellower songs erupt in anger eventually, and detractors could claim that most of the album merely features minor variations on "Violet" and "Miss World," the album's other well known songs. They do have a point, and too much more of the same probably would've gotten pretty old pretty fast. However, I'd argue that for 38 minutes the formula works very well; even if these songs are formula, they're good formula, and I truly believe Love while she's singing, fake con artist or not. This is partially because the lyrics are surprisingly provocative, with lines like “was she asking for it? Did she ask you twice?” and “I’m so real I am beyond fake, someday you will ache like I ache,” while the autobiographical “I Think That I Would Die” acutely details Ms. Love’s famous Vanity Fair ordeal in which she almost lost custody of her child. Say what you will about Courtney Love, but this album proves that she has considerable talent in the one area that truly matters to me - making quality rock records.

Celebrity Skin (DGC ‘98) Rating: B+
Since he helped co-write five songs, now everyone will be saying that Billy Corgan writes all of Hole’s songs instead of Kurt Cobain. Again, I don't really care who wrote what, but one look at the songwriting credits reveals this to be a true band effort. Not that Love doesn't dominate, mind you, and it’s difficult to separate Hole’s music from Love's public persona, especially now that she wears Versace outfits and hangs out with movie stars instead of white trash. Her band has undergone a similar makeover musically, trading in fuzzy guitars for a slick melodic sensibility. Lushly produced to accentuate the band’s creamy vocal harmonies, this is a far cry from past releases, as the band trades in some spontaneous excitement for a sparkling new sound. At their best the band shows pop instincts that recall prime Joan Jett, peaking early on with the poppy hard rock of the terrific title track, the flawless power pop of "Awful," and the wonderfully melancholic semi-ballad “Malibu” (a minor hit as was the title track). The best of the rest, including other airy semi-ballads such as "Hit So Hard," "Boys On The Radio," and "Heaven Tonight," are glossy guilty pleasures, and given the band's punk past it was easy to call this one a "sellout." Elsewhere, the specter of Cobain can’t help but linger, as “Reasons To Be Beautiful” is a direct dig at Kurt’s suicide note (“it’s better to rise than fade away”), while a few bland entries and unconvincing attempts to contemporize their sound makes this a comedown from Live Through This overall. However, this underrated effort definitely has its fair share of good tunes (“Northern Star” is also impressive in how it starts off unplugged and gets strings-heavy elaborate without losing any of its intensity), despite being a commercial disappointment (unsurprisingly, Love pointed the blame elsewhere, citing poor record company promotion), and I was mildly disappointed when Ms. Love quietly (if she could be said to do anything quietly) pulled the plug on Hole in 2002. P.S. Love made a “comeback” with Hole by releasing Nobody’s Daughter in 2010 but it was a completely different version of the band; I’ll refrain from commenting about the album further since I haven’t heard it yet. However, I will note that by the time of the albums’ release not nearly as many people cared about Hole anymore, and that initial reviews have been mixed at best, though the first single “Skinny Little Bitch” is good.

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