When Kurt Cobain ended his life with a shotgun blast 10 years ago this April, he left behind a musician wife with a career-making album under her belt and a drummer without any apparent employment prospects. A decade later, how things have changed for Courtney Love. Since the high-water mark of 1994’s ”Live Through This,” Love has pummeled her credibility and sobriety so many times it’s no longer entertaining.
If we’re to believe America’s Sweetheart, the first album Love has released since the demise of Hole, Cobain’s ghost still hovers above her. ”Hey God, you owe me one more song/So that I can prove to them/That I’m so much better than him,” she rails in the sandblasting ”Mono,” and it doesn’t take a Seattle PI to determine who she could mean.
”America’s Sweetheart” may not have that one song that breaks her free of Cobain, but neither is it the gruesome wipeout one would have expected in light of her ongoing crises. Love aims to repair her damaged integrity by unleashing her scabrous, scabby old self again (as opposed to the waxy, faux Courtney of Hole’s flat finale, 1998’s ”Celebrity Skin”). The difference is most noticeable in her voice. Once again, Love is singing with the force of a hurricane, and her ability to project — to invest every syllable with conviction, determination, and personality ? remains undiminished. Try as they might, current quasi-punkers can’t match her razor-throated yowl. As for what she’s projecting, the mesmerizing lyric sheet is akin to one of her rambling, semi-coherent Internet postings. She sputters on about ”lots and lots of meaningless sex,” how she’s ”overrated, desecrated…I know I’ve got a screw loose,” and how ”you would never sell out just like I did ‘Playboy”’ — and that’s just one song (”But Julian, I’m a Little Bit Older Than You”). Throughout the disc, she depicts herself as a needy, unstable troublemaker who still yearns for fast times, drugs, and ”big black men.” Considering her recent busts, it’s easy to believe everything she sings: ”America’s Sweetheart” could be rock’s most graphic pre-rehab statement.
Love may never again tap into the ravaged beauty of ”Live Through This,” yet ”America’s Sweetheart” tries its damnedest to recapture her glory days. Love’s current vision of punk is more buff and polished than it was a decade ago, thanks to songwriting collaborator Linda Perry (who’s produced and written for anti-Courtneys like Pink and Christina Aguilera), but Love’s bristling energy and careening narcissism (and Perry’s love of a guilty-pleasure hook) overcome the occasionally clubfooted arena-punk arrangements. From full-throated exorcisms like ”Almost Golden” to the sleazy chime of ”Sunset Strip” and the creepy-crawly romantic-destruction saga ”Life Despite God,” you’ll feel as if you’re accompanying Love on a Jack Daniels-fueled drive through snaky Hollywood streets. For the moment, she’s kept the car on the road, and the trip, for all its chaos, can still be an exhilarating one.