Review: Chicago Tribune

Love Reveals the Hole in Her Heart
May 20, 1999, by Letta Tayler

MUSIC REVIEW HOLE. Courtney Love. A case study in attitude. Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Roseland, Manhattan. Seen Tuesday.

COURTNEY LOVE is one of the few stars in today’s institutionalized rock market who still offers the excitement of unpredictability. Will she scream at a female fan for taking off her shirt and then remove her own? Trash the stage, then burst into tears? Cancel her tour for the second time this year? Love did none of those things during Hole’s gig Tuesday night at Roseland, but she hardly lacked attitude. Whether methodically whacking her breast with a tambourine, benevolently pulling dozens of fans onto the stage, or angrily threatening to end the show in mid-set after a listener said something that annoyed her, she exuded that titillating sensation that anything could happen.

Almost all her antics were riveting. My favorite was when she pressed her electric guitar to her groin and growled, in a move as filled with swagger as any by Mick Jagger. She did this while wearing a glittery pink gown that was part hooker, part prom queen and part angel, complete with wings. Love doesn’t just shatter gender myths, she reinvents them as her own.

Too bad Love’s music didn’t always match her mystique. Despite solid, energetic delivery, in which her band combined the edgy pummeling of its early punk years with the hard-candy pop of its more recent work, Hole rarely replicated the depth and maturity of its last album, “Celebrity Skin.” An important exception was “Northern Star,” a harrowing ballad in which Love wrapped her sandpaper rasp around rich, almost medieval picking by guitarist Eric Erlandson. She seemed completely immersed in the lyrics about love and loss, which, like many in her new songs, appeared to be about her relationship with her ex-husband, the grunge star Kurt Cobain, who killed himself five years ago. For a few minutes, she dropped her posturing, let emotion take over and pulled everyone into her intensely private world of doubt and pain.

Or was it just another part of the shtick? “I fake it so real I am beyond fake,” she caterwauled in “Doll Parts,” and it was easy to believe her.

If it didn’t match its finesse on record, the sound was still engaging.

Although Love’s corrosive vocals have little range, they’re an arresting blend of tortured and torturing. Her lyrics are an equally wrenching mix of hearts, flowers, barbed wire and arsenic, which often, unfortunately, drowned in the band’s sonic maelstrom.

The band went deeply into its new album, delivering a strong “Malibu,” a perfunctory “Celebrity Skin” and an aching “Dying” – songs that astutely explore both the allure and the destructive elements within stardom and love.

Hole’s rendition of the Temptations’ “Get Ready” came off as a tired joke, but Love’s deliberate seediness was perfectly suited to her cover of the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which she delivered in a monotone that evoked the Underground’s Nico.

Like Nico, who died in a bicycle accident after years of addiction to heroin, a drug that Love and Cobain knew well during their marriage, Love exuded a pathos that suggested fragility deep beneath her terrifying bravura. But more than anything, she came off as a survivor. “They crash and burn,” she sang convincingly of rock stars on the poppy, bittersweet “Boys on the Radio.” The Widow Cobain gave not even the faintest indication that she might meet the same fate.