America’S Sweetheart – Courtney Love

Label: Virgin

It seems kind of perverse to be sat reviewing a Courtney Love album, especially here today, in 2004. We’re immediately au fait – or at least dismissively comfortable – with Courtney the widow, Courtney the addict, Courtney the love interest, Courtney the plaintiff, Courtney the professional celeb, Courtney in rehab and behind bars, maybe Courtney the actress and certainly Courtney the momentous attention-seeking widescreen-deluxe public fuck-up. But aside from the fact that (including ‘America’s Sweetheart’) she has actually released 3 full records in the past decade, never so much Courtney the recording artiste. Even recently, when drawing obvious parallels with The Distillers’ Hole-on-death-row blood-raw pop, we’re referencing an almost fictitious creation rather than anything all that real or credible. And even in that context we’re much more likely to discuss to the size of her pupils and wash of her complexion.

Hole’s one true definitive moment, ‘Live Through This’, is almost fossil-like now. A battered, delicate, perfectly preserved relic from another time, buried by the damningly-timed actions of her husband a mere 4 days before its release, and further concealed by ‘Celebrity Skin’, an album so regular for the most part that it betrayed everything we presumed we knew about her (strong, moment-seizing, unpredictable). So now should be when we finally write her off, leaving her to exist only in her own snow-dome paperweight rock-world. But this is a woman who thrives off negative energy. Some call her a parasite, and to be fair not unreasonably so. She is clearly at her best when feeding off others, just check her interviews where she spends proportionally more time ripping others apart than she does self-referencing. ‘Celebrity Skin’ felt like a solo record, and thus failed. Whereas this, in title her first solo work, prospers because it actually isn’t. She’s always been difficult.

Her main, but not only, host body on this record is Linda Perry, infamous for making Pink the coolest popstar on the planet, for being one Non Blonde and for owning the key to a big box of pop suss. Perhaps then she can then be held responsible for taking raw Courtney and serving up the finished dish, because this album really blisters on the tongue, disguising gristle as dynamite and erupting in a long and surprising burst of colour. ‘I’ll Do Anything’, ‘Hello’ and especially the beautiful sun-kissed ‘Almost Golden’ are probably at least as good as anything on ‘Live Through This’, only immediately more direct. The least you might expect from her is a glut of angry guitars, Chinese-burn vocals and a sprinkling of melody, but there are some really accomplished pop blips on here too. Not least ‘But Julian, I’m A Little Bit Older Than You’ which sounds like Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ set alight by Babes In Toyland, with boosters on. Surely in anyone’s language a 4-star pop tune.

The real achievement for this record though is what it says. As much as she may have given the impression she was rupturing her heart out through her throat in the past, her lyrics were notably evasive and frustratingly plain given the unique wealth of experience she had to draw on. This is quite a turnaround. “I’ve got pills coz I’m blonde, I got pills coz your dead,” she shrieks at the frantic end to ‘Sunset Strip’, continuing “I got pills coz I feel more than 21, I’ve got pills for my couchie coz baby I’m sore, I got pills coz you’re fat, I got pills coz I’m bored”. Are we finally getting access to the real Courtney – complicated, confused and witty? There are many moments when she seems to be openly referencing the open wounds in her life (“If you want love now, or the needle and the spoon, you gotta show some faith in my baby, coz I can’t come over to you” – ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’) or just being reassuringly bolshy (“… I’m gonna come and save the day, did you miss me?” – ‘Mono’). It’s nice to see honesty finally added to her repertoire. Welcome back, Courtney the rock star.

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Release: Courtney Love - America'S Sweetheart
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Released: 12 March 2004