• Old 'Stache

Hole Fills a Gap with Celebrity Skin

written by: on October 18, 2011

Celebrity Skin Album CoverFor a few minutes in 1998, Courtney Love seemed to have her life together—at least long enough to release Hole’s third and most commercially successful album, Celebrity Skin. It was a time in which she was moving past the deaths of husband Kurt Cobain and her band’s bass guitarist, Kristen Ptaff—who both had died four years before. She was in a relationship with Edward Norton. Her movie career was taking flight (thanks to The People vs. Larry Flynt). And somewhere in the mix, she was raising her daughter, Frances Bean. Love had her hands full, and cranking out a killer album with her band only made sense.

Celebrity Skin came out in ’98, at a time when the airwaves needed to be reminded that women, too, could rock ‘n’ roll. Other predominately female acts released albums around that time, including Lauryn Hill (Miseducation of Lauryn Hill), Cher (Believe), Madonna (Ray of Light) and TLC (FanMail). While these groups all produced great music in their own rights, the timing worked well for Hole because the market was overwhelmed with girly pop songs. Celebrity Skin filled the right niche at the right time.

Grungy in her music and her lifestyle, Love did an excellent job of balancing heavy, dirty and screaming with soft, feminine and crooning. In Celebrity Skin, the band reached a rock-grace equilibrium delivered only by other female-led alternative acts such as Alanis Morissette, Garbage and The Runaways. While Love can be heard growling in songs such as “Reasons To Be Beautiful,” “Use Once and Destroy” and “Playing Your Song,” she’s somber in “Dying,” sweet in “Heaven Tonight,” and nearly poppy in “Celebrity Skin.”

By changing tempos and moods from song to song, the band is able to exemplify members’ talent and versatility. (Undoubtedly, any band behind Love must be ambidextrous, to some degree, just to keep up with her antics.)

The album leads with the title track and steadfast single. It’s catchy—both in lyrics and sound. The opening guitar riffs are immediately alluring. With the poppy drums and steady bass, it may be the most, if not only, danceable track. The lyrics pave the way for the album’s overarching themes of celebrities, pop culture and Love’s relationship with Cobain. In “Celebrity Skin,” Love specifically plays up the parody of obsessive vanity in stardom: “Oh, look at my face/My name is Might Have Been/My name is Never Was/My name’s Forgotten.” The song was so hooking, in fact, that it spent 26 weeks on Billboard’s alternative songs chart—peaking at No. 1.

Being the center of the media’s attention is something Love certainly has to be accustomed to—her rowdy and abrasive outbursts are self-corrosive. Love has been thrust into the unflattering limelight on multiple occasions (her famous marriage to Cobain, her music and acting career, her questionable parenting skills, her drug abuse, etc.), so she had plenty of material from which to work. In “Playing Your Song,” Love sings about burning out and becoming bored and apathetic, alluding to Cobain: “Hey you, you’re just a cripple now/They sell for millions now/They sold you out.”

With Celebrity Skin, Hole recruited some outside help from Love’s close friend, Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins. In addition to playing bass on a number of tracks, Corgan helped write “Celebrity Skin.” Melissa Auf der Maur also joined the band, as Hole was in need of a new bassist after Ptaff died.

Hole disbanded in 2002, but it reformed in 2009 (without any of the original lineup, other than Love) to release Nobody’s Daughter (2010). Love also had a brief solo stint (America’s Sweetheart, 2004). From the standpoint of her music career, Love might have reached her peak with Celebrity Skin. It has a fresh rawness that no one else was producing at the time. Love and her band found a way to take some pretty sordid subject matter and generate an autobiographical, dynamic album.

Hole – Celebrity Skin tracklist:

  1. “Celebrity Skin”
  2. “Awful”
  3. “Hit So Hard”
  4. “Malibu”
  5. “Reasons to Be Beautiful”
  6. “Dying”
  7. “Use Once and Destroy”
  8. “Northern Star”
  9. “Boys on the Radio”
  10. “Heaven Tonight”
  11. “Playing Your Song”
  12. “Petals”