February 16, 2004
Love, Courtney : America's Sweetheart
...never less than compelling...
6 / 10
About 18 months ago, Courtney Love spent an evening DJing at Alan McGee’s club Death Disco. This being Courtney, the DJing was the least memorable part of the event. One highlight involved Courtney lying on her back as two acolytes dragged her around the dancefloor by the feet in an attempt to remove her cowboy boots. Amidst the mayhem, a friend of NME’s asked her about her new material, then being recorded. "Will it be a hit?" he enquired. "It’s going to be number one, sweetie," came the magnificent reply.
Now, after umpteen delays, ‘America’s Sweetheart’ is here. Wrapped in a gorgeous sleeve (showing that Courtney still has great taste even when everything else is going to pot), it’s her second attempt at making a proper commercial blockbuster after the airbrushed magnificence of Hole’s 1998 final album ‘Celebrity Skin’.
However, at first it sounds slight and rather ragged. ‘Mono’ has a great line ("Well they say that rock is dead/And they’re probably right" ) but is basically a retread of ‘Celebrity Skin’’s awesome title track. ‘I’ll Do Anything’, with its war cry "Give me whiteboy skin/Give me big black men" conflates ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Blur’s ‘Song 2’ and even Elastica’s ‘Connection’ into something exhilarating but inescapably derivative.
A few plays later, however, and ‘America’s Sweetheart’ reels you in. Although you could never call Courtney Love’s atonal rasp beautiful, it’s never less than compelling. Songs which are like sandpaper on the ears first time round (like howlathon ‘The Plague’) reveal a certain scary beauty, while the blowsier side of Courtney’s repertoire ( ‘Hold On To Me’, ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’) becomes more convincing. Compared to her soft rock icon, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, Courtney hollers like a workman, but there’s something heroic about her inevitably doomed attempts to emulate her.
This being Courtney, there’s also an emotional rawness to ‘America’s Sweetheart’ which you’ll either love or be repelled by. Though the production covers everything in a superficial gloss, when Courtney sings about how she’s got pills for every eventuality, or that "all the drugs in the world" won’t shut her up, you know she’s singing from bitter experience. What is missing are the chilling lyrical imprecations she used to do so well – like ‘Doll Parts’’ "Someday you will ache like I ache."
Nevertheless, Courtney clearly still means it, maan. "Number one, sweetie"? We doubt it. But when it comes to stars with one foot in Beverley Hills and the other in some Camden gutter, part Lucrezia Borgia and part Judy-Garland-meets-Janis-Joplin, there is still only one Courtney Love.
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