Courtney Love - America's Sweetheart
It’s been five years since Courtney Love released a record. That was the last of Hole’s albums, “Celebrity Skin” which was arguably their masterpiece. In the meantime, much has happened for Love and indeed for the music scene. Arguments with band members and record labels, court appearances, an abortive band called “Bastard” and questions about her sanity have dogged Love’s public image. You could be forgiven for wondering if this record would be her Chinese Democracy. Thankfully, it’s hasn’t. “America’s Sweetheart” is here, and let’s be clear – it’s good.
The album begins, appropriately enough, with “Mono”, the song in which Love sets out her stall for the rest of the album. It’s a sneering three minute statement of intent in which she sets herself up as the saviour of rock ‘n’ roll. “But Julian, I’m A Little Older Than You” is fascinating for many reasons. For a start, the “Julian” in question is Julian Casablancas, lead singer of younger generation NYC band The Strokes. This is a song which manages to reference everything from The Clash to The Ramones to the playground chant of “I see Paris, I see France, I can see your underpants.”, and yet somehow, it works.
Not that she’s scared of her past. With “All The Drugs” commenting “All of my love, all of my money, doesn’t feel as good as the drugs” and the borrowing of the riff for a certain large Nirvana hit for “I’ll Do Anything” there is no attempt here to shy away from difficult topics. Her voice, still sandpaper rough in places, might not be the ideal vehicle for ballads, but “Hold On To Me” works surprisingly well. There’s even a power-ballad in the shape of “Sunset Strip”.
Courtney is still very much in love with Los Angeles. The references are all over the album, from the Pacific Coast Highway to the Hollywood Sign. “America’s Sweetheart” isn’t a radical departure from “Celebrity Skin”, and yet it doesn’t need to be. The fact of the matter is that the album stands up well to the rest of her back catalogue and suggests that either Ms. Love can actually write excellent rock songs, or she knows how to pick collaborators.
Surprisingly, “America’s Sweethearts” is also a grower – the lyrical nuances pass you by on the first listen but you pick out more and more references the more you listen to it. In a way, it’s a typical rock fan’s record. If you have no idea why Love would be screaming “hey, gabba gabba, hey” or mentioning “London Calling” in passing then you should probably attend Rock 101 classes before you buy it. Having a map of LA, Love’s biography and a working knowledge of drug slang might help, too (an ‘eight ball’ as referenced in Mono is an eight of an ounce of cocaine, for example) as you unravel the record’s layers. But even if you are wet behind the ears in everything but the music, “America’s Sweethearts” will excite you on more than one occasion.