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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.

February 27, 2004 | Permalink


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