People have always accused Courtney Love of being a fraud. But no matter how “punk” you think you are, Love’s late-‘90s Hollywood-glam makeover was an exhilarating spectacle to behold. The Hole frontwoman rewrote the rockstar-wife cliché, reconstructing what should have been a pathetic post-Cobain downfall into a Tinseltown-worthy tale of female self-empowerment. She got off heroin. She scored a few good movie roles. She put out an underrated (albeit antiseptic) post-grunge eulogy record without crumbling into a giant mess. Despite what her longtime fans and detractors might say, there was nothing fraudulent about Love’s red-carpet dress-up or radio-friendly L.A. rock. In fact, it felt downright authentic: Punk is a musical style, not a life-style, and Courtney knows it.
Enter Love’s long-awaited solo effort, America’s Sweetheart. (It’s hard to tell whether she’s poking fun at herself—or us—or if she’s just that fucking delusional.) The album is a cross between the ferocious, guttural angst-rock of Hole’s breakthrough Like Through This and the sleeker, more accessible balladry of the abovementioned Celebrity Skin. The sunny California pop of the latter may have pushed drummer Patty Schemel to distance herself from Hole, but Love was infinitely more interesting as the indomitably opportunist widow of a rock legend than a desperate, on-the-wagon has-been, which is exactly what she sounds like now. Love might have been able to feign rage this time around (her raspy howls are more 1994 than 1998), but she evidently couldn’t muster the strength to hold a note for longer than a second or two. Her voice is scratchy and tattered at best and her vocals sound like they’ve been painstakingly pieced together by an army of engineers.
America’s Sweetheart is practically unlistenable, but that’s not to say it isn’t a fascinating mess. If a drug-addled hooker recorded a song while stumbling down Sunset Boulevard, it might sound something like “Sunset Strip.” And Love’s attempts at tackling the subject of sex (currently her second favorite topic aside from drugs) on tracks like “But Julian, I’m A Little Bit Older Than You” and “I’ll Do Anything” just end up sounding scary: “Woo-hoo!! Throw me up against the wall…Gimme dick, gimme speed!” Never mind that she tries to rhyme “fire” with “starved”—it might be the album’s best song, if only because Love is so damn frightening. My sympathies (or congratulations—I’m not sure which, but maybe both) go out to Julian Casablancas.
But getting back to Courtney Love: The album’s lead single, “Mono,” finds the singer begging for a little rock redemption (“Oh God, you owe me one more song so I can prove to you that I’m so much better than him” and “Are you the one with the spark to bring my punk rock back?”), but how can she save rock n’ roll—or her career, for that matter—when she can’t even save herself? Love used to think it was better to rise than fade away, or so she said. And she used to fake it so real she was beyond fake. But now she’s starting to look a hell of a lot like Amanda Lepore—inflated lips, fake tits and all. If Courtney Love died tomorrow, America’s Sweetheart could turn out to be the most unsettling, if not completely revealing, documents of rock god(dess) destruction. And, like the album’s final, something’s-not-quite-right-here track, “Never Gonna Be The Same,” it will be oddly and overwhelmingly sad.