Love for Sale

Celebrity Skin

"Don't wet your panties cuz I'm giving you the personal treatment--you are simply symbolic of the private school upper middle class torturers of us--the ones that MAKE THE FUCKING MONEY so you--dickhead--can sneer and jeer at our actual work ethic wich is about CREATIVITY--not CONTRIVANCE or elitism, and treat us (oh not me, believe me, the private school people cant torture me anymore) like shit."

Or so wrote a red-eyed Courtney Love with 600-watt intensity last Saturday on the music industry chat board The Velvet Rope, in response to another sitegoer's comments on the apparent complacency of Hole's new Celebrity Skin.

"I know I shouldn't post anymore...but last night my yoga teacher wanted to meet Adam Yauch," she states early on in her dispatch. "And I walked into that Beastie room [at the MTV Video Music Awards]...and I'll tell you guys, fuck, ignore that its me [a] second, these people--their friends were the MOST CYNICAL HARD FACED COLD EYED getting old and hating it bunch of little shits I'd seen collected in a small space in a long time."

This goes on...and on, line after line of such bile, as if she's channeling the amphetamine prose-style of the army of Love-hating, punk-rock patricians who've been maligning her in zine after zine for years. "Your cynical universe is so about to crumble, and you will find your joy I hope. Sort of...eventually...after you repent for being an ASSHOLE. people torture thats inflicted on all of us of the 'other classes,'" bawls the self-proclaimed "girl with the most cake." You are what you eat.

Maybe those private-schoolers affected her than she'd like to admit. There's a little hunk of Latin in the lyric sheet to Celebrity Skin, appearing after the evil Billy Corgan possesses Courtney and leads his charge through an inferno of Pumpkins-esque bombast called "Northern Star." "VELUT INTER IGNIS UN A MINOR," it reads, dangling in the liner notes after timbal and strings have evaporated. A philologist friend translates it, "as if among the fires one was small," or "as if among the stars one was small." Love's message curdles with the froth of the underdog: Courtney vs. the Cognoscenti--the same cognoscenti who've turned her bland and beautiful Celebrity Skin into the punk record of the year.

Hypocrisy hounds will thrill to the notion that Courtney has decided to fight her righteous battle on a Web site whose only visitors are a paying group of label wigs, rock-crit wonks, and, apparently, one frequently face-lifted multimillionaire widow from Olympia, Wash. They'll also be missing the point. Waking up in her makeup, swimming in "miles and miles of perfect skin," yowling throughout at an unspecified "ee-YOU!," the C. Love of Celebrity Skin is her own masterwork, boiling over with hard-faced, cold-eyed, gettin'-old-and-hatin'-it complacency and feverish contempt. This is the record she was born to make, a masterwork of selling out and self-loathing that takes the punk of Puget Sound and auctions it off at the Hotel California. The conflagration in the background of its black-and-white cover references X's Cali-punk hallmark Los Angeles, but the band in the foreground looks like Heart on a bad hair day. And the music on its pretty inside is the softest hard rock imaginable.

"Hey hey, I'm gonna follow you,"Courtney sings, chasing one of Billy Corgan's sickly acoustic guitar lines. "I wanna fly Malibu."

Celebrity Skin's real hero is neither Billy nor Courtney, but guitarist Eric Erlandson, whose chord changes on the record's lead single, "Celebrity Skin," could elevate Paula Cole into the punk-rock canon. And Love would sink like a stone if it weren't for producer Michael Beinhorn's lifeboat of hooks. That said, the girl is on a roll: three great records; three Frankenstein-like reinventions; enough bad press to sink the U.S.S. Maine. Marilyn Manson should be so lucky.

Indeed, Skin is the completion of a trilogy that could make George Lucas quiver. All Courtney Love has ever wanted is to maintain full control of each and every stage of her own image-mongering. And this she has done. The babe in boyland crying "when I was a teenage whore" at the opening of Hole's genuinely punk Pretty on the Inside had to give way to the Madonna-Medusa party girl of the comparatively peppy Live Through This. Celebrity Skin completes the progression. "Miles and miles of perfect skin/I swear, I do, I fit right in," she howls on the record's punkest moment, sounding more pathetic than ironic. Had she called the album Pretty on the Outside--now that would have been ironic.

In the four years since Live Through This torched the rulebook of rock womanhood in a way critics' darlings like Liz Phair or Corin Tucker never will, Courtney's most telling musical moment was a 1996 cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman." What at the time seemed like a sly response to an inevitable backlash was actually part of a career-long obsession dating back to Pretty's "Starbelly," on which Love and Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon patched together a "Revolution 9"-style montage of Nicks samples.

Stevie's wicca-sexpot spaciness is the main ingredient in Love's third incarnation. The wicked witch is reborn as wispy stargazer. Heavenly bodies "crash and burn" across her mind's skies (the sweet and dreamy "Malibu,") and across her memory (the saccharine and dreamier "Boys on the Radio"). But after the record opens with five consecutive knockout rockers, culminating in the real grunge, "Reasons to Be Beautiful," Courtney encounters a dark star in the form of co-writer Billy Corgan.

Despite his as-yet-unsubstantiated claim of "steering" Erlandson toward the riffs that make "Celebrity Skin" and "Awful" such blockbusters, his most characteristic contribution is the maudlin "Dying." "I am so dumb/just beam me up," sings Courtney-cum-Billy. Courtney's voice literally sounds like Billy at his dimmest--as if she sold him her soul at the arena-rock crossroads for a free facial and lunch at Vida.

And her vita is dolce, indeed. On "Reasons to Be Beautiful," Courtney sings, "It's better to rise than fade away," off-quoting Kurt's suicide-note citation of Neil Young. When Celebrity Skin is great--when its almost desperate dispassion burns like a stillborn supernova, when her boys turn our radios into halls of smoke and mirrors--then Love is a stone visionary and a saintly vision. A Cassandra of smack. A Beatrice of bullshit. She MAKES THE FUCKING MONEY. And then she flies away. Malibu awaits.

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