Courtney Love’s new record is called America’s Sweetheart. Take that. It’s a name that has been used facetiously by the press to describe her. By wearing it as a badge of pride, she seeks to assume the name and at the same time spit it back–the modern way of sapping all the power from a hurtful phrase.
This is just the type of aggressive solipsism we’ve come to expect from her.
It seems a little late for this sort of irony, however. The title is meant to provoke a reaction–the MO of Love’s career–a little controversy, some notice. Unlikely, since we’ve heard this kind of cry for attention from her time and again. In the event of a stir, however, it will be a reflexive one. Because the only real response to this title is to cringe.
The cover of America’s Sweetheart is designed to appeal to the same 14-year-old boys who like fantasy comic books, complete with the canonical “head trip, mixed-message” portrayal of the female body–hers, presumably, though with the same sort of paint job you’ll find in those “comic” books: black stockings, angel wings, hands tied, legs crossed and bound, boobs jutting forward. She’s an angel, she’s a whore; she’s a victim, she’s a man-killer. This is Courtney Love’s idea of complexity.
You may remember that she used to be in a band, Hole. She’s dropped that particular pretense–the band–and is now going solo, which is a relief, as she was never much of a team player where her celebrity was concerned. But the shedding of one pretense gives rise to another: that this is a solo album. The record is the product of collaboration, though you may have to search outside the album’s liner notes for support of this claim, as the credits and lyrics are printed in white on a pink background in letters so small they are almost impossible to make out.
With the help of a magnifying glass, however, one can discern the now-expected long list of impressive producers–including Josh Abraham (Staind, Korn) and James Barber (Ryan Adams)–as well as a number of of musicians, including Samantha Maloney and Patty Schemel (both formerly of Hole). Absent from the list of musicians is Courtney Love.
One can also make out this line: “All lyrics by Courtney Love except ‘Uncool,’ by Courtney Love and Bernie Taupin” (you may remember him as Elton John’s lyricist). There is no such straightforward admission about the origins of the music. In the notes, each song is listed above a parenthesis enclosing as many as five names. The name that occurs with the greatest frequency (that is, on all but three of twelve tracks) is “Perry.” It hasn’t been a secret in the music press, though it does seem to be one in the album’s own liner notes, that this refers to Linda Perry, formerly of the band 4 Non Blondes, who has recently written songs for pop divas Pink and Christina Aguilera. Hiring a songwriter is an unexceptional arrangement these days and makes listening to records the musical equivalent of patronizing Starbuck’s–you know what you’re getting.
The quiet, almost surreptitious acknowledgment of Perry is, of course, intentional, as Love has received much grief in the past over her collaborations–charges that are due for sorting out. Hole’s first record, Pretty on the Inside (1991), has been mostly cast aside as a bad-beginnings rant-a-thon, and there was no disputing who had written it. Their second, Live Through This (1994), was a breakthrough record for the group, though it suffered allegations that it had been written by Love’s husband, the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, despite the fact that the songs are credited to Hole. Their third record, Celebrity Skin (1998), was written by a constellation of people–most notably Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins–in various configurations laid out in the liner notes by a legend, each contributor matched to his/her corresponding symbol–a method that seemed code for Love’s embarrassment over the fact that she’d had help writing the record.