Music Writing by Carson Arnold


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(photo credit: David LaChapelle)

In The Village Voice a little while back a whole page was dedicated to describing how Courtney Love's debut solo album, America's Sweetheart, was total garbage. Most of the attacks extended from the cover's S&M attire, and the reviewers all wrote like their mothers had caught them listening and were now covering it up with layers of cynicism. At this very moment, people are cackling that Courtney Love is in fact a sprawling mess. She is. In what seemed like a week, she was caked with new drug allegations, lost custody of her kid, appeared wasted on Howard Stern growling that somebody better stick up for her, stood on David Letterman's desk flashing him, hit a guy in the head with a mic-stand, got busted again, and all along trying her best to promote her new, big loud & juicy songs that remind us volume was invented with a dial...and I gotta turn it down to think.


Naturally, I got my hands on the album only because I was half expecting she was gonna do herself in. Grunge symbol rock-zoot & celebrity starlit with half the world accusing you of killing their poster-boy can't be easy. Yet, as much as everyone says she's trash, what I can't get out of my head is:


If she were a man, she'd be a hero, a martyr, and everybody would be saying she was Axl Rose. Men who screw-off and indulge in recklessness are considered to be bad boys with iron balls. Whereas women are tagged as whores, and what becomes an idiosyncrasy for men throughout a career, transcends as tabloid gossip that women continually have to exonerate album after album, while of course battling the judgment of male critics who already have issues with women: 'cuz why the hell would they be in a dark room writing a review (?). "Chic-rock" typically has had very few choices but to inherit the effects of a "man's world", and today faces either the hip curmudgeon (PJ Harvey), the out-feminist (Ani Difranco), or the soft-rock (Liz Phair and on down the line), sliding into today's teeny-bopper zoo. Figures like Love, sharing the company of Joan Jett and later Marianne Faithfull, to say the least, are left out of the fun, even though it's suggested that they're modeling the temptress of what rock 'n roll has instigated beneath its beat. Call it bad grrls, wherever there's been a vigil chorus, there's a dirty match on the other end of the American industry that we just love to blow out.


That said, I see a fascination with Courtney Love. The prom-queen-gone-nuts Hollywood actress playing Althea Flynt, or the wailing singer of Hole, whose other three members I still don't know the names of. Personally, the only good thing Love's ever touched is Hole's Live Through This, a classic of grunge iconoclasm, although my theory's always been Kurt Cobain wrote most of the material, considering the band's follow-up four years later, Celebrity Skin, was just dull stardom; orchestrated by a this-time vacant grunge ("Malibu" was the only cool song, and I would talk about Pretty On The Inside but I lent that to a girl who I haven't seen in years). After that, Love multiplied into a thousand people, or at least a thousand faces for what the late nineties could see after closing time.


Er, America's Sweetheart? It's okay, not terrific, almost as if Pat Benetar was a Chelsea girl. It's dedicated to Cameron Crowe. It thanks Larry Flint. Currently, it's a disaster. Historically, it may amount to something. Love paints herself as the immortal groupie, where rock 'n roll is both her nemesis which made her a widow and an addiction that made her an egocentric star. The declaration that rock is "probably" dead and everything boils down to a porno film you-just-don't-know-it in "Mono", or the cynical sick-of-Led "Zeplin Song", lyrically, seems to be alert of this message (or, that she plays the guitar better than most guys). "I'll Do Anything" and "But Julian, I'm A Little Bit Older Than You" are smutty neo-metal invasions of anal-sex and drug nuances (or the Hole-ish "All The Drugs", along with the fun "Hello"), while "Hold On To Me" and "Uncool" croon for that 'ol love song that never was. The choruses all have that hypersonic guitar attack with Love's up-heaving voice, waxed from the studio-help of Linda Perry of the 4 Non Blondes, with additional hands from too many names like Josh Abraham of Staind, Matt Serletic, and apparently Wayne Kramer somewhere in the kick out the...jah, what's the difference?


I've listened to the album probably four times now to try and catch what Love's doing. Whether she's intentionally posing as a rock perversion, and thus mocking it (the poster inside shows her crawling out of a heart naked), or is in fact a mess as people claim, will depend, in the end, how much you care. Love cannot escape herself-- her image as that induced vixen that people are obsessed with. If she were to sing Patti Smith's "Rock 'n Roll Nigger" today, she'd be deemed as a pig as opposed to a renegade. Where can she go? Why is she here? She is, by far, hated and loved by the same sweethearts.


--Carson Arnold - April 3rd, 2004


copyright 2004 Carson Arnold


H(ear) is an online music column consisting of interviews, articles, and investigations written by Carson Arnold. As a freelance writer for various magazines and liner notes, living in the woods of Vermont with his family, Carson widely encourages one to submit their art, writing or any interesting piece of material that you would like to share. H(ear) is accepting both promos and demos for review or any other valuable music-related subjects. If you wish to make a comment or would like to receive H(ear) weekly by email please contact Carson at [email protected]

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