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Hole: Celebrity Skin

Album: Celebrity Skin
Label: DGC

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Courtney Love has such a confusing, contradictory personality that she often gets reviled for sins other rock stars routinely commit. She's demonized for her mood swings and purported musical reliance on Svengali figures (Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan, et al), but those attributes are not only common; they actually help make her albums almost monumentally compelling. Hole's 1994 breakthrough, Live Through This, was a difficult, beautiful, tragic record, its relevance aided by the eerie timing of its release—five days after Cobain's death. Celebrity Skin, obviously, can't resonate as resoundingly, though Love hasn't exactly led an uneventful existence since Live Through This' release: She battled drug addiction, became a movie star, was romantically linked with various stars, raised a child, lost a few more friends, discovered fashion, and served as the subject of a scathing documentary. Not surprisingly, Celebrity Skin finds Love obsessed with fame, death, beauty, and image, delivering lyrics that all but beg for endless critical analysis ("I live my life in ruins for you / And for all your secrets kept / I squashed the blossom and the blossom's dead"). The album mostly lacks the visceral thrill of its predecessor—the anthems that rage and cry, yet stand as great, big, catchy, verse-chorus-verse pop songs. There are a few undeniable successes: "Boys On The Radio," with its seemingly Boston-inspired guitars, sounds like a great single, "Playing Your Song" conveys some well-placed rage, and "Celebrity Skin" leads off the album with cheesy metal riffs that somehow sound like a smart touch. But too often, the album is excessively slickened by hired hands like Corgan, Michael Beinhorn, and Tom Lord-Alge, which means Celebrity Skin, for all its star's well-documented messiness, feels a little stiff and detached. Still, the unmistakable force of Love's persona keeps it compelling. Love her or hate her, she knows how to earn a listener's attention.