Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly Hole In the Head

Courtney Love unveils her "Celebrity Skin", rock critics and Love-haters line up for the kill, film at 10.

By Bill Frost

SEPTEMBER 21, 1998:  The perfect back-to-school record? Look no further than the long-awaited-given-up-for-dead-and-then-finally-birthed Celebrity Skin (DGC) from Hole, the band fronted by obscure female rocker Courtney Love.

Hole's previous album, Live Through This (DGC), which came out waayy back in 1994, was the back-to-school record of its time: Claire Danes was in the throes of high school agony/ecstasy on My So-Called Life, everything was dark, wet and flannelized, and everyone was having a recurrent bad-hair day. Times were tough, life was hard, no one had a flat-rate Internet connection.

Now, four years later, Celebrity Skin is the back-to-school record of the moment: The Dawson's Creek kids are nowhere near as screwed up as MSCL's Angela Chase was, everything's bright, dry and cargo-panted, and the hair, damn — could Katie Holmes' locks be any more perfect? Dream on. Times are good, life goes on, America Online just broke 30 zillion subscribers.

We're talking in Hollywood terms because Courtney Love and Hole are products of Hollywood and, as such, are not subject to the same laws as regular folk. The goodness or badness of life in 1998 America depends entirely upon who you talk to, just as the fabness or lameness of Celebrity Skin depends upon which slick hipster magazine you pick up: Entertainment Weekly called it more artificial than Love's new nose, Details deemed it flatter than Love's new tummy, and Rolling Stone proclaimed it more immaculate than Love's new breasts. Celebrity Skin, the magazine, has not yet reviewed the album.

Courtney Love, the rock star, is most definitely back: Hole's taut, sexy performance of "Celebrity Skin" on the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards last week was one of the few highlights of an otherwise DOA program — especially when you've got charismatically-challenged carp like Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas introducing them. This wimp is no rock star, and nothing makes a hot piece of meat stand out like a slice of doughy Wonder Bread.

Is Celebrity Skin packing the goods under those leather pants? Happily, yes — it's a Dirk Diggler of an album, not a Rob Thomas.

photo: Fred Hayes
The Hole truth: Melissa Auf der Maur, Courtney Love, Patty Schemel and Eric Erlandson model fall fashions from Love's new KMart collection.

Following the mousse 'n' Marshalls rave-up of the opening title track — that song you've heard on the radio and thought was Veruca Salt with the catalytic converter ripped out — is "Awful," a jangly tune that, along with the honeyed "Heaven Tonight," has prompted irate comparisons to, ulp, the Bangles. There are worse offenses than sounding like the Bangles — sounding like Matchbox 20 springs to mind, as does sounding like your last album. The grunge-ready Live Through This and "Miss World" were great for the time, but who wants to wear the same life they did in 1994? The most subversive, punk-rock thing that recalcitrant anarchists can do in infosaturated 1998 is sneak in through the front office with a slick product, and that's exactly what Hole has done.

While fans of the old Hole will latch onto "Reasons To Be Beautiful" and "Playing Your Song" as clove cigarette-stained memoirs of Pretty On the Inside (Caroline), Hole's 1991 debut, they're going to find even more to be depressed about on Celebrity Skin: Producer Michael Beinhorn — the knob-twiddler behind Soundgarden's so-called sellout, Superunknown — has made Courtney & Co. sound as pretty as they look these days on the outside.

And they thought that Hole's cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" on the Crow II: City of Angels soundtrack in '96 was a just a joke. Surprise, alt-kids — it was just the beginning.

What about the much-discussed songwriting influence of Smashing Pumpkins' Billy "Uncle Fester" Corgan? He co-wrote five tunes on Celebrity Skin and, just like on a Pumpkins album, they're not the best of the bunch. It's underrated and overlooked guitarist Eric Erlandson, Hole's six-string atmospheric engineer, who's the real brains behind Love's continuing emotional rescue.

The same crackpot conspiracy theorists who tell you that Love had Nirvana's Kurt Cobain (her dead rock star hubbie, in case you hadn't heard) killed also insist that Cobain wrote most of Live Through This. This may sell cheap books and movies, but it's complete bullshit. The subliminal sonics on Live Through This were all Erlandson's and Love's. Celebrity Skin's finest moments, along with the occasional assist from drummer Patty Schemel and new — as in, she's not dead after two years with Hole — bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, are all in-house creations.

"Boys On the Radio," the probable second single, will be the song to make or break the new, manicured Hole. A beautiful pop Epiphany, "Boys" captures the transient hold on an "endless summer" perfectly with alternating layers of pretty acoustic guitars and near-grating electrics, unrelenting beat and a detached Love seductively detailing her love/hate relationship with the Matchbox 20s of the airwaves. As fitting for the occasion as it would be, you'll never hear "Boys On the Radio" at the Lilith Fair — Marilyn Manson would get a patchouli-scented invitation from Sarah McLachlan before Courtney Love ever will.

That's the way it is: Love-haters will not likely be won over by Celebrity Skin, even if they do give it a chance. Love-lovers, on the other hand, may miss the grunge-ripping and ripped dresses and feel left out of the new Hole House of Style. It could be huge, it could flop, and if Love doesn't join the boys and girls on the radio with Celebrity Skin, it'll be the best-smelling bomb of 1998.

All this and only one mention of Kurt Cobain, thank you very much.

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