- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Courtney Love

America’s Sweethearts

Virgin Records

What would our culture do without its Courtney Loves — the haute bohemians who self-destruct, gloriously and delectably, before our eyes? They do it so we don’t have to.

Miss Love, dangerously close to 40, hasn’t released an album in six years, the last being Hole’s middling “Celebrity Skin.” Meantime, she’s kept busy making movies, warding off vice cops and ensuring that Nirvana’s legacy stays buried under reams of legal stationery.

Last summer came the semi-substantiated rumor that Miss Love was Marlon Brando’s granddaughter, adding another glint of impropriety to her shady celebrity.

Ironically pegged to Valentine’s Day, “America’s Sweetheart” is her first solo effort. It drools violent sex, piles of drugs and Hollywood degradation from each corner of its dirty mouth.

“Did you miss me?” she asks, portentously, on the opening cut, “Mono.”

Um, Courtney, did you ever leave?

Whatever. The audacity of “Sweetheart” isn’t found in its alt-lifestyle sleaziness but in Miss Love’s self-appointed quest to save rock ‘n’ roll from its moribund self. Unlike, say, Joan Jett or Debbie Harry, who tried merely to compete with the boys, Courtney Love is out to top them.

Sprinkled throughout the album are knowing references to old heroes such as Led Zeppelin (“Zeplin Song”), the Sex Pistols and the Velvet Underground (“All tomorrow’s parties / They have happened tonight”); and Next Big Things such as Eminem and the Strokes. (“But Julian, I’m a Little Bit Older Than You” is directed at Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas.)

Miss Love’s put-down: “They say that rock is dead / And it’s probably true.”

And yet, here she comes a-staggerin’, poised to save the day. Fat chance, but give her props for effort.

We are talking effort here — painful, strenuous labor. Gallons of hard liquor and lord-knows-what-else have shredded Miss Love’s voice, never a beauty to begin with, to a tattered, breathless shriek. When she runs through her laundry list of pill-popping on “Sunset Strip,” she sounds close to gasket-blowing aneurysm.

A gang of knob-turners, including ex-boyfriend Jim Barber and Matchbox 20 mastermind Matt Serletic, mask such vocal defects well enough, and Christina Aguilera’s tunesmith, Linda Perry, manufactures enough loud-and-heavy guitar hooks to launch the next Good Charlotte album.

Miss Love, no lightweight, does her best to keep up with the party, slurring her way through drug underworlds, drunken car trips and expensive hotel bashes.

There’s little doubt that she can live up to this level of dissipation. So how come “Sweetheart” reeks of insincerity? Probably because the infantile, up-your-nose offensiveness of songs like “I’ll Do Anything” and “All the Drugs” cancels any confessional value they might have had.

Shameless power ballads such as “Uncool” (co-written with Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin) and “Never Gonna Be the Same” had me fumbling through my mental Rolodex for Lita Ford’s calling card.

It’s hard to save rock when your pilothouse is washed up on the shores of 1988. (“Kiss Me Deadly,” anyone?)

What is grunge’s princess doing sucking up to the glam her late husband, Kurt Cobain, so completely obliterated?

“America’s Sweetheart’s” irredeemable flaw is wrapped in its overemphatic ambition. Miss Love puts it worst when, on “Hold On to Me,” she sings: “I am the center of the universe.” I could say something cute like, Good thing the universe is expanding then, because I want to be as far away from her as possible. But with Courtney Love, it feels like piling on; she’s her own worst enemy.

“With all of my money / It doesn’t feel as good as all the drugs,” says the Center of the Universe.

That’s not entertaining. Nor is it revealing. It’s just sad.

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