Revisited: Celebrity Skin

March 11th 2011

Two songs into watching @BestyCoastyy play a kinda flat set @OAF on Monday night, I found myself wishing I was watching a Hole show circa Celebrity Skin instead.

Disclaimer: Celebrity Skin was an album I bought when I was 16, WITH MY OWN MONEY, earned selling caramelised nuts to shopping centre crowds for seven dollars an hour (plus commission), so it has obvious sentimental value. It’s also a guitar pop album ostensibly about California, written by a band with a focal/vocal front-woman, so you can see how my brain fathomed the link.

I’m not here to argue a comparison though – rather, I’d like to convince you why, while we’re currently listening to new bands that evoke a 90’s sensibility, you should listen to one of the better records that that decade produced.

Celebrity Skin is an angry album, and an album that ultimately destroyed its architect, Courtney Love. It followed Live Through This, Hole’s second album, which was released four days after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and STILL TO THIS DAY is unfairly rumoured to have been ghost written by him. It coincided with Courtney’s gonzo infiltration of Hollywood, when she divorced her scummy grunge roots and toned up, got plastic surgery, started wearing designer clothes and became a Golden Globe winning actress. It took a year and a half to make (after two false starts), and includes contributions from Billy Corgan who later had a falling out with Courtney and claimed to have written the majority of the record (you can see a common theme emerging here). It’s about being put in your place because you’re a woman, it’s about abuse, it’s about pretending to make it in Hollywood, it’s about celebrity, it’s about Kurt, it’s about California and the symbolically cleansing power of water, it’s about hating love, and it’s about hating Love.

It’s also incredibly catchy, considering the weighty themes – it’s definitely not a grunge album. Check the handclaps that propel (lesser known) single Awful, the jangly guitar on standout single Malibu, and Melissa Auf De Mur’s ethereal backing vocals that add a dreamy edge to everything (even/especially the heavier tracks like the title track and Reasons To Be Beautiful).

Plus, there are so many more treasures on this album waiting to be discovered. During Boys On The Radio, the album centrepiece inspired by the death of Jeff Buckley (and maybe Kurt’s as well, because COME ON) there’s this moment when Courtney sings, “He said he’d never ever, ever go/oh heavens, heavens, heavens no/oh never ever, ever go away…” And then Melissa comes in over the top, sweetly singing, “Baby, I’ve gone away.” It’s heartbreaking.

By far though, the thing that makes me return to Celebrity Skin is Courtney’s vocal performance. There’s this video online (hyperlink: of Courtney singing an impromptu cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance at a recent Givenchy party, which, besides making me sorta like the song, demonstrates the power she wields when performing – this woman has LIVED, and that experience is there in her voice. She’s allegedly a terrible mother, and probably a tough person to be around, but she’s definitely not shallow, no matter how hard she tries.


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