1) Live Through This
Most Hole fans will agree that this is the band's quintessential album; their "magnum opus", if you will, and they're probably right. In terms of chronology, the record works as a bridge between the band's noise rock beginnings and their more polished pop years, and serves up some of the greatest rock tracks of the decade. Courtney Love's lyrics are clever and intelligent, and her rhythm guitar serves as a solid backdrop for Eric Erlandson's skillful guitar work.
It's a strange album in the sense that it's mournfully quiet and slow at times (tracks like "Doll Parts
" and "Softer, Softest
" being prime examples), and before you know it you're getting gleefully punched in the face by songs like "Gutless
", or "She Walks Over Me
"— both of which contain punk riffs that would have given The Germs a run for their money.
While the formula to these songs is fairly straightforward, it's a formula that works, and the creative touches are magnificent. Love's vocals, though technically sub-par, are soulful and sincere, and the songs give her plenty of opportunity to scream her lungs blue like she's built to, as well as time to showcase her softer edges. She's very self-aware here, and in a good way.
Although hampered by Kurt Cobain's synchronous suicide (and even further so by the rumors that he'd written the whole thing and that she killed him), it's the album that established Courtney Love as a punk rock princess, and provided an emotional outlet for legions of frustrated young women. Even the hardcore Nirvanaphiles will admit that "Violet
" is an incredible song... whether or not they're willing to give Love credit for penning it is another story.
2) Pretty On The Inside
With as polarizing a woman as Courtney Love is, it's not surprising that her band's debut is probably just as polarizing for audiences. Very few people can find a middle ground on this one, and I can't blame them. On an instrumental level, the record is calculated but unpolished, with sludgy, raucous guitars and schizophrenic alterations in speed and volume. Just when you think you have a second to catch your breath, the band kicks you in the ass.
Speaking of catching your breath— I have to marvel at Love's primal howling here. Her gravelly vocals are at times completely astounding— her screaming on the album is as powerful as just about any female rock vocalist I can think of, rivaled only by her friend/former bandmate Kat Bjelland of Babes In Toyland. In any case, Love's got lungs that you wouldn't believe for a chain smoking 27 year old.
If her searing screams aren't enough, her lyrics on the album are utterly fascinating and disturbing. Her unique way with words is well-exercised here, and her life trauma well-expressed. Some of these songs are almost hallucinogenic and actually somewhat frightening to listen to ("Mrs. Jones
"), but all of them are really just an absolute sonic rush of frustration and despair.
After 32 minutes of scathing lyrics and a symphony of screaming guitars, the album comes crashing down with the title track "Pretty On The Inside
", followed by the coda "Clouds
", a gory reworking of Joni Mitchell's classic folk tune. Quite spectacular, really. If you like your rock raw, then this album will treat you well. Cathartic is possibly the best word for it, but it's definitely not easy listening. Like I said, it's love it or hate it. I adore it.
3) Celebrity Skin
If you could imagine a rock 'n roll polar opposite to Pretty on the Inside
, this album would probably be it. Well, maybe not totally. It has its rocker moments, but overall the band re-dressed themselves here, trading in the punk influences of their previous records for a more sparkly and pop-inflated sound. While perhaps not as interesting as the group's previous work, it is their most musically advanced. The instrumentation here is not just calculated this time— it's calculated and
In an effort to pull the band in a more commercial circuit, Love and crew took their instrumental talents and dressed them with her talented penwomanship, eternally marred by misery but also freshly adorned with a glitter dusting that she accumulated in her budding movie career at the time.
There's a dreamy California sound that permeates the album which was very clearly strived for, and at times the vocal harmonies are reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. Though not what you'd necessarily expect from a woman who has screamed her way through her music career, there is a beauty in this record that is unmatched by the rest of the band's output. As I mentioned, the album does have its "rock" moments (the title track "Celebrity Skin
" and "Reasons To Be Beautiful
" are about as heavy as it gets), but it is largely composed of clean, tight melodies with very little dirt around the edges.
Lyrically, Love is interesting and poetic as always, and Erlandson's guitar work here is especially admirable— sprightly tunes like "Heaven Tonight
", as well as the melancholic acoustic work on "Northern Star
" are both impressive and beautiful. It should also be noted that Billy Corgan helped write several songs on the album as well, which Love and the band openly stated and meticulously credited him for in the liner notes. It wasn't Kurt Cobain's ghost, promise.
4) Nobody's Daughter
I feel weird putting this one behind the rest of the albums in light of the fact that Courtney Love adamantly believes this is "the best record she's ever made", but I can't help my feelings now, can I? No doubt she worked painfully hard on these songs— it was written largely while she was in and out of rehab and dealing with lots of personal issues— but the outcome ultimately was less impactful on me than the group's other albums.
It should be noted that the only remaining original member of the band on this record is Love herself, so there's a different chemistry at work behind the songs. Her guitarist, a young British musician named Micko Larkin, is a very skilled player, though I'm not sure Love even plays any instruments on the album. The songs here are something of a mashup of all of Love's past influences, so it's got a very unique feel to it. There's a blend of guttural rock tracks like the snarky "Skinny Little Bitch", as well as more mellow songs, like the acoustic dirge "Honey" or the nostalgic "Pacific Coast Highway". They're all very sonically tight songs and a different breed of rock from what you'd find on the band's pre-millenium recordings.
Lyrically, Love is less cryptic than before, which, depending on who you ask, is either an accomplishment or a disappointment. I don't know how I quite feel about it. Corgan helped write the music on a few songs on this as well, while producer Linda Perry wholly penned the track "Letter To God
", which I personally find the weakest track on the record. Love's vocals here are rich and tinged by years of chain smoking, giving her an almost Bob Dylan-like sound (the album's acoustic closing track, "Never Go Hungry
", sounds like something straight off of a Dylan record actually, and is possibly my favorite track on the album), which has hindered her screaming abilities a bit but given her a different style to work with.
All in all, I can't say this is a bad record— it's actually a very good record— but for those who came to know and love Hole from their earlier work, it's a difficult pill to swallow for some fans. Regardless, the songs are accomplished (though not wholly attuned to my tastes) and I applaud Love for following her heart and getting back to what she does best.
5) My Body, the Hand Grenade
The fact here is that this is a compilation album, and in the case of this band, the consequence of that is the whole does not equal the sum of its parts. This record consists of all of the band's earliest singles and b-sides, and charts their progression from basement studio noisemakers to accomplished songwriters. The truth is that, while they may have been basement noisemakers once-upon-a-time, both Love and Erlandson showed a unique approach and potential to songwriting.
Fleshing out the b-sides and singles are live tracks from MTV Unplugged and a couple of other oddities, including the band's first recorded song ever, the sludgy "Turpentine
", as well as the ever-discussed "Old Age
", which was recorded once as a b-side to "Beautiful Son
" in '93 and later re-worked during the Live Through This
sessions. The track has infamy for its melody and chorus having been written by Cobain, who passed it onto Love, who then rewrote all of the lyrics and gave it her own brand of abstract gloom.
When it comes down to it, I love every song on this album, but as a compilation, it's... odd. The plus side of it is that it contains the majority of the band's original singles and b-sides (some of which were vinyl-only releases), and puts them all in one place. It's an interesting listen in terms of tracking the band's evolution, but is one of those things that's kind of a "fans only" sort of deal.
6) Ask For It
Again, this is a kind of "fans only" release. Put out in 1995, the year after Live Through This
, it was the group's first EP and features recordings from BBC John Peel Sessions, done in 1991. The nice thing about this is that it serves as documentation of such tracks as "Violet" and "Doll Parts" existing before the Love-Cobain affair, which squashes in most logical people's minds the idea that Cobain wrote some of Hole's most popular songs.
Other goodies include a cover of "Over the Edge"
, originally by the Portland punk band The Wipers, which is kind of like Love's salute to her musical roots as a teenager floating around Portland, Oregon in the 1980s. Aside from the kind of secret handshake going on there, it's actually just a damn good cover.
The EP also features a devastating cover of "Pale Blue Eyes
" recorded at the Whisky A Go Go in 1992, purportedly at a concert where Kurt Cobain was in attendance. The EP ends itself with two fragmented covers joined together: "Hot Chocolate Boy
" by Beat Happening and "Forming
" by The Germs. Keeping in mind Love's outspoken distaste for Olympia, Washington and all of its exclusive indie music congregations (ala Beat Happening), as well as her adoration for The Germs, I can only think that this barely-2-minute cover was done as love/hate juxtaposition. Regardless, it's clever. Though this EP comes in last place on my Hole reviews, that's not because it's bad— it's merely because it has the least to offer.