Album A&E – Courtney Love, ‘America’s Sweetheart’

Album A&E is a series in which NME writers rescue a much-maligned album from critical oblivion. Here we tackle Courtney Love’s one and only solo album from 2004

In life, Love may have been called many things, but in music her reputation with Hole was unquestionable. The band’s three album run was one of the most thrilling of the 90s, seeing them ascending from primal, grot-rockers to some sort of end of the century Fleetwood Mac. ‘America’s Sweetheart’, her solo debut which appeared a few years after Hole’s demise, changed all that.

Courtney Love

What originally began as plan to do a back-to-basics, garage rock record snowballed into one of the most notorious album casualties in recent times.

Much ink has been spilt detailing the excesses behind ‘America’s Sweetheart’ (the drugs, the exorbitant recording sessions in a French Chateau, the fiddly post-production that resulted in a Vaseline-lensed final production). In 2010 Love playfully called it ‘Le disaster’. But is it as bad as all that?

Courtney Love

At the time, Love was caught between the unpleasant musical arcs of nu-metal and sub-Strokes indie. ‘America’s Sweetheart’ continues ‘Celebrity Skin’s’ voyage into the heart of American radioland. This time it was 80s hair metal. Songs like ‘Uncool’ and ‘Almost Golden’ punch with that sort dumb-fun atmosphere.

But for many listeners this was part of the problem. At the time of its release critics pointed to the fact that Love’s lyrics were disappointingly mundane. Turning from her usual multi-referential stringing together of words and meanings, ‘America’s Sweetheart’ got into the spirit of the spandex decade.

In retrospect, it seems as if Love’s coke-y persona was an attempting to replicate the cock-rock bluster of that period where Poison and Whitesnake ruled the airwaves. But elsewhere, she more than lives up to her reputation as one of the cleverest lyricists of her generation.

‘Mono’ is the triumphant comeback song that never was (railing against the Fred Dursts of the world in her plea to “Just give me one more song/ To prove to you that I’m so much better than him”), whilst the stream-of-consciousness ‘But Julian I’m A Little Older Than You’ simultaneously plays several personalities off one another, whilst essentially being a deliciously malavolent song about stalking Julian Casablancas.

Then of course, there’s the epic ‘Sunset Strip’ a paean to the potential transcendent power of rock and roll, framed by a look at the shallow vacuity of Hollywood. It aches with sadness through its shiny gossamer power chords (“rock star, pop star, everybody dies,” she croakes) and is pretty unforgettable by anyone’s standards.

The noughties were a nightmare decade for Love, but ‘America’s Sweetheart’ proves that it wasn’t all a waste.

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