New Kind of Love
Courtney Love polarizes people. You either love her raw, egocentric take on the world or you are disgusted by her public tirades in television interviews and court appearances. The controversial singer appears to embody what rock ‘n’ roll is all about, whether you like it or not.
Earlier this month, Love released her long-awaited solo debut, ironically titled “America’s Sweetheart.” The album initially was scheduled to hit stores late last year. But the release date was rescheduled when police charged Love with drug possession in October and she was rushed to the hospital for allegedly overdosing on a controlled substance.
After a self-acknowledged love affair with heroine, the widow of the late Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain seemed to have gotten her act together in the late ’90s. She was moderately successful with her band Hole, and even garnered a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the 1999 movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”
But Hole’s success dwindled and Love became entangled in a bitter legal dispute about unreleased Nirvana recordings. After that, she faded from the spotlight she so desperately seemed to crave.
With "America's Sweetheart," Love tries to reclaim her earlier glory. She seems to be scrambling to create artistic and commercial success to establish herself once again as a major force in female rock.
The singer collaborated with lesbian composer Linda Perry to create those hooky riffs that made Perry so successful with Christina Aguilera and Pink. Love even collaborated with Bernie Taupin, a longtime lyricist for Elton John, to energize her vision.
It comes as no surprise that “America’s Sweetheart” is all about Courtney. Just as on her previous work with Hole, she forces her brash personality upon listeners. She wears her heart on her sleeve, spitting her venom in all directions.
Musically, Love returns to the powerful punk rock from Hole’s earlier work that is as gritty as it is melodic. The album’s first single and opening track “Mono” is a feel-good guitar workout with Love’s self-important lyrics challenging an imaginative God to bring her punk rock “back alive.”
Love howls further on the punky “But Julian, I’m A Little Bit Older Than You.” She explicitly belittles the Strokes’ singer Julian Casablancas in a misplaced effort to impress him.
On the ballad “Hold On To Me,” Love presents a gentler self, but is once again unable to shed her excessive narcissism. She sings, “We all get our glory … I’m the center of the universe.”
“Uncool” is a refreshing effort of odd couple Taupin and Love. It is a harrowing ballad that manages to peel back the singer’s angry layers.
Love shows a modicum of sensitivity when she weeps, “Would it be uncool if I could write one love song. I just want to bleed … Spit out what I have held down so long.”
Listeners who hope for more of this will be disappointed. On “Life Despite God,” Love’s vocals completely falter. She appears on her old path of drug-induced, self-destruction, barely able to sing her lines.
The singer displays her knowledge of rock history on “Zeppelin Song” and is only a tiny step away from catapulting herself into the ranks of some of punk rock’s greatest musicians.
“America’s Sweetheart” is an overcooked attempt by Love to prove that she is still relevant.
A continuous lack of humility is her biggest weakness. But this also fuels Love’s greatest promise: an uncompromising ability to put her music where her mouth is.
The Piano Man
Hip-hop, rap and pop rock dominated last year’s music charts, but the success of Norah Jones, one of the best-selling artists of 2003, proves that embracing true songwriting talent remains a viable commercial strategy for record labels.
Sony Music hopes to capitalize on the renewed interest in traditional songwriters. The entertainment giant signed Casey Stratton, who recently released his debut album, “Standing At The Edge.”
Stratton, 26, is an original singer and songwriter in the tradition of artists like Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan. His mesmerizing, driving piano tunes and imaginative production arrangements are glossy and meaningful.
His music can be classified as alternative adult-contemporary, with its emphasis on hooky melodies, classical instrumentation and poetic lyrical content.
The classically trained artist collaborated with soundboard veteran and composer Patrick Leonard, who co-produced the entire project. Leonard is mostly known for his work on Madonna’s late-’80s albums such as “True Blue” and “Like A Prayer.”
Born and raised in Michigan, Stratton moved to Los Angeles to pursue a full-time career in music. After shopping his work around different labels, Sony’s Odyssey label picked up his 45-song repertoire, 12 of which appear on the album.
Stratton wrote most of the songs over a four-year period. All of the compositions touch upon “life’s pivotal moments,” which is how he came up with the title of the CD.
Stratton tells Arjan that the record is about coming to grips with life’s baggage and letting go to move on to better things.
“I took inspiration from all different aspects of my life,” he says. “Sometimes I write about my friends or about my own life and relationships. It was very healing for me, but hopefully some people can see it universally and apply it to their own lives.”
He acknowledges that he might be an “old soul” with his lyrics that cover big emotions.
“I have always been very sensitive and taken things very seriously. I guess that’s why some people think I’m older than I really am,” he says.
Stratton does not confirm or deny rumors about his sexual orientation.
“I think people are reading too much into the music,” he says. “I have all sorts of relationships and they’re all different and I’m very open-minded. I kind of just leave it at that.
“There is a time and place to talk about your sexuality and I feel like I’m in a position in my career right now where that can’t be the focus of things,” he adds.
Stratton believes many gay fans appreciate his lyrics about being different and feeling isolated.
“You can feel that on all sort of levels,” he says. “I think that is the feeling that brings my gay fans to my music. I don’t think it is about me personally and my sexuality.”
Stratton’s vocals sound eerily similar to Tori Amos’s. He also has been compared to a young Elton John. He does not mind the comparisons. In fact, he is very flattered by it and even has met Amos on numerous occasions.
“She has been very supportive of me and given me great advice,” he says.
The singer thinks that record companies were reluctant to take on singer/songwriters for a while.
“Singer/songwriters need more time before they take off. They have to establish a fan base and build themselves from the ground up,” he says. “A lot of record companies were struggling financially and could not take that type of risk.”
Whether audiences will catch on to his music or not, Stratton is, by far, one of the first noteworthy debut artists of 2004.
Win Autographed Eric Himan CD
Eric Himan is currently one of the best selling indie artists on CDbaby.com with his third album "All For Show." Cassandra at Thumbcrown Records was kind enough to give-away an exclusive signed copy of CD to the readers of arjanwrites.com.
In the meantime - here comes the plug! - you can you check out Himan in a town near you. He will be visiting Cincinatti (2/19), New York City (2/22), Ft. Lauderdale (3/14) and Austin (3/17). For a full tour schedule, visit his web site.
The Great Escape
DJ Escape, aka Jeff Jonas, is rapidly emerging as one of the circuit’s premier spinmeisters. The 26 year-old New York-based club jock is sweeping the dance floor at major circuit events around the world with his tribal beats and infectious vocal tunes. He recently played Rio de Janeiro’s White Party and he is gearing up for a visit to Avalon in Boston. A pop quiz with DJ Escape....
How did you get your start as a DJ?
I actually started out playing hip hop and reggae thirteen years ago and then moved over to dance music when I was about seventeen. That change was really influenced by Junior Vasquez. A year later I got a residence at Liquid in Miami, which basically catapulted my career in the dance music scene and in the gay scene.
Besides Junior are there other DJs that have influenced you?
Definitely. Johnny Vicious, Danny Tenaglia, Victor Calderone have given me a lot of ideas. Of course, Junior has been making house music forever and he continues to be an important part of the scene.
You’re part of both the gay circuit and the regular party scene. Do you have a preference?
Yeah, I prefer to play the gay crowds. They’re very receptive to the music I play. Gays really enjoy the tribal beats, which are base-driven and have a lot of vocals and acapella lay-overs.
But you’re not gay?
No, I’m not but I love to hang out with the gay boys. I can’t remember that last time I went to a straight party.
Some say you’re the sexiest DJ on the circuit…
I try! There is nothing wrong with some sex appeal.
This business is all about image. I try to keep up my body in the gym. It is all about staying healthy and in-shape.
Do you try to make your music sexy too?
Yes. I try to project a good energy with familiar rhythms in everything I play. I want to make people dance and have them relate to what I’m playing.
Do create original productions as well?
I’m actually going back into the studio to work on things. The most recent thing I released was a collaboration with DJ Guido for a remix of Kathy Brown’s “Turn Me Out.”
Is it hard to stay fresh as a DJ?
You just got to play the new stuff that you like and manipulate it a bit. I like to pull the vocals off the record so I can change how you hear it. So you won’t hear the same record in the same way all the time. I also constantly take old records and reinvent them. A good example is “Sweet Dreams.” It is ancient, but a friend of mine redid it and it is huge now.
How do you get your hands on new music?
I’m in touch with a lot of the DJs and producers that make it. As soon as they’re done, I get it.
How do you prepare for a gig?
I just put together some of the music that I think will make the crowd go crazy.
You make it sound so easy…
It is not. I think about what records to play at what time. However, everything I do is on the fly. Nothing is pre-planned. I’m feeding off the energy of the crowd.
Prince rocked the stage and impressed audiences when he opened the 46th Annual Grammy Awards together with Beyonce last Sunday. Twenty years after he topped the charts with his album and movie "Purple Rain," his royal badness appears to be back at the top of his game. After living in seclusion for several years, the star might be heading back into the studio to record more of the sexy pop-funk that made him a reigning icon in the '80s and early '90s.