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Hole – Celebrity Skin (1998)

June 11, 2014

[Album 320/1001]220px-Hole-album-celebrityskin

Separating the artist from the art.

Sometimes easier said than done but for whatever reason, I don’t typically struggle to do so with music.

The Gallagher brothers are neither gentlemen nor scholars, yet I’ve been able to enjoy Oasis for the last 20 years with little difficulty.

Peter Doherty is as self-destructive as they come, yet my Libertines T-shirt remains in the rotation.

And of course, Courtney Love.

Say what you will about Courtney (and people have said plenty) but her life choices off stage have never interfered with my enjoyment of Hole.

Celebrity Skin was a bit of a surprise for me, a very nice one at that.

I think I expected the album as a (w)hole to sound like how I remembered the title track: bitter & aggressive.

I hadn’t realized the album’s opening lyric, “Oh Make Me Over” could also describe the band’s sound transformation.

A musical shift remarkably unlike the Nirvana trajectory:

Nevermind (1991) was super-polished.  Whatever the antonym is for super-polished, that is the sound of In Utero (1993).

Live Through This (1994) was scrappy.  Four years later, Hole followed it up with this pristine piece of practically perfect power pop.  Alliteration!

My memory is muddy (what’s this river that I’m in?) so I cannot recall the audience reaction to Celebrity Skin at the time.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there had been decries of “sell out!”

Though as is often the case with the loudest voices in a crowd, such accusations would have been misguided.

I’ve never been accused of keeping up with the times but even I knew “grunge” was finished by 1998.  Would a Live Through This part II have been well received?

‘Return to the roots’ records are sometimes fashionable.  Was a trip back to the even less melodic Pretty on the Inside really in the cards?

Instead, I think the shift to power pop, a genre that’s always in season, was the right move, even if it was a calculated one.

Why is power pop always en vogue?  It’s not about the fashion, it’s not about the fury, it’s about the songs.  Think Big Star, REM, Teenage Fanclub: the records have no best before dates.

Obviously I have a genre bias but I like to think I can still spot groups running on jingly/jangly autopilot from a mile away.

My jingly/jangly autopilot radar was silent here: each song on Celebrity Skin is a keeper.  Especially Boys on the Radio, one of those ‘what rock have I been hiding under that I missed this?!’ songs.

Overall, listeners expecting the anger of tracks like Violet form Live Through This will be disappointed.  Then again, those expecting unfiltered Pretty on the Inside rage might have been disappointed when they first heard the melodies on Live Through This!

Ahh well, you can’t please ’em all but I was certainly pleased with this record.

From → 1990s

  1. Meg permalink

    AGREED! This is one of my all time favorite albums. Perfect summary of it’s loveliness GS – as always you’re bang on. Now get off of those muddy banks of the Wishkah! 🙂

    • Thanks Meg – I remain flabbergasted that I hadn’t heard Boys On The Radio prior to this year. It’s right in my wheelhouse – beautiful, uplifting melody combined with such dark lyrics (“I know you are rotten to the core”), the contrast, love it!

  2. For better or worse I have never been a fan of Courtney Love, I think it’s a Yoko Ono complex or something like that so whenever I listen it doesn’t really do much for me. However this album has sunshine on barbed wire all over it and as a result it is pretty damn good. Nice post

    • ‘sunshine on barbed wire’ – 45 spin, that’s another great line that I will have to borrow.

      For the next power pop review I’m trying to fit in an solid quote of yours, ‘they have hooks that suck you in before you even know you got took.’

      My thanks!

  3. I would never have considered a Hole album – or anything associated with the manufactured outrage of Ms Love – without your connection to Power Pop, a genre close to my melodic heart. Who’d have thought it could have been included in the 90s section of this on-going jangly saga? So thanks!
    PS. perhaps of interest…

  4. I think this is the best Hole album, personally. Her solo album that followed it was unlistenable.

    • I shall steer clear, that’s good advice!

      • I remember my wife bought it in my $4.99 bin when we first started going out. I said, “Listen you don’t want to buy that. Seriously. I know you’re a fan, but I can’t express to you the headache that album gives me.”

        She didn’t listen. Lesson: She is $4.99 poorer now.

      • Silver lining to the purchase – opportunity to quote this:

      • Ahh yes. Classic!

        I just watched one two nights ago that I had never seen before. Homer invents grunge. The centerpiece was a song about Marge called “Margerine”, which was actually “Glycerine” by Bush!

      • Is that the one where he was in a band ‘sadgasm’?
        I was tempted to reference it when I reviewed Hole – if Hole had kept sounding ‘grunge’ on Celebrity Skin, it would have been drifting into Simpsons parody territory, ‘so 90s’
        I’m glad they didn’t

      • Sadgasm! I had forgotten the name. That’s right!

  5. Like that “jingly/jangly autopilot line. 🙂 This album would’ve been way more popular if it were anyone else.

  6. I have trouble separating the artist from the art especially with some of my favorite ones (i.e. John Lennon) but you have strong examples of how it is necessary sometimes if you want to enjoy their work. I avoided Hole mostly because I was already getting tired of grunge and I didn’t think they added anything different except a female lead singer. But you’ve convinced me to give it a good listen.

    • I have a harder time with movies – I suppose with music, because I’m not seeing them, I can distance the song from the person a bit more easily.
      On screen, if I know the actor is unpleasant off-screen, it’s trickier liking them on screen!

      • And that could apply to Courtney love again who I thought was pretty good in Man On The Moon and The People vs. Larry Flynt.

      • I haven’t seen the People yet – heard she & Woody had good performances though.
        He’s one who has surprised me, I didn’t expect his post-Cheers career to be so successful!

  7. Love your alliteration!
    I wasn’t a huge Nirvana fan (I did like their music), but I recall Courtney being pegged as a Yoko Ono. When Kurt died and Live Through This was released, I felt really bad for her and actually didn’t mind some of her songs, even though she seemed to act like a jerk in the press (probably messed up on drugs and her husband’s death as contributing factors).

    When Celebrity Skin was released, I seem to recall the media’s obsession with Courtney’s look. She had lost some weight and started hitting the gym…and this was somehow an affront to people. I still felt bad for her in a “can we stop obsessing over Love for one second?” I was in my early 20s here, and this was around the same time I realised how savage people can be. So what if she has changed her look? Says who, she can’t sing? So what? SO WHAT?

    I never really got into the music of this album (never owned any of her albums, actually), but that is what I remember from that time.

    • Thanks Sarca!
      I’d agree – I don’t remember the body mass index of too many other singers being under such scrutiny.

      She didn’t strike me as being too PR savvy and the tabloid scene was all over her.

      From other reviews I read about this album, a lot of emphasis was placed on the gossip instead of the overall package, who’s this song about? is that a reference to Kurt?

      It’s a tricky question though- without the Nirvana connection/her off-stage behaviour, would Hole have been in the spotlight?

      I’d hope the answer would be yes as the music here is solid.

  8. Y’know, I have never actually heard this album. I had Live Through This on CD, but haven’t listened to it in a very long time and can’t even say that I was overly familiar with it either. Think maybe I’ll need to review these albums …

  9. Interestingly, Hole are the opposite of the mystery band in my comment on the previous post.

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