Pop-Culture-Corn, September 1998

[Review of Hole's Celebrity Skin which mentions Fleetwood Mac]

That squishing sound you hear far in the distance as you listen to Hole's new record, Celebrity Skin? That's the sound of grunge being crushed beneath Courtney Love's spiked heel. And she even sounds kinda glad that it's dead.

The grunge style has mostly drifted from Hole's attitude on Skin, though the sound lingers on a few tracks. In its place is a far cleaner, brighter sound, the nineties version of the California style established by bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac in the early and mid-seventies. Each instrument is packed fairly tight into the mix, yet still has room to breathe and bleed into the rest of the song. Harmonies are soaring and the guitar work sizzles. Love thanks Stevie Nicks in the album's liner notes, and it's clear that the Mac has had a huge influence on the production and songwriting on the album.

Hell, in terms of sheer sonic assault, it's a whole new Hole. From the record's opening blast on the title track, clawing at the listener with five tight bursts of slashing guitar, you hear a renewed energy and enthusiasm from the band, removed eons from their previous grunge-o-matic production style. "Doll Parts" is to "Celebrity Skin" what Schindler's List is to Back to School. They're also not afraid to turn down the volume and crank quietly, tossing a few pretty acoustic tracks into the album's salad bowl of sounds.

Hole's stylistic switch from brooding grunge queens to shimmering alternative divas fits in perfectly with Skin's thematic considerations. Lyrically, Love seems obsessed with deconstructing the glamour and fame she's adopted in the years since Hole's last record, as she cleaned up for a few Oscar telecasts and fielded film offers. It's all summed up in a line from "Reasons to be Beautiful": "Miles and miles of perfect skin/I swear, I said, I fit right in/I fit right in your perfect skin/I cannot breathe." Throughout the album, she mocks and assaults the glamour she embraced so easily as part of the Tinseltown elite.

It seems as though her Hollywood A-list existence had begun to stifle, and the lyrics on Skin are Love's attempt to shatter the precious southern California image-making lifestyle with her sarcastic commentary. This ties into the most compelling image employed in Love's lyrics, that of sweetness and candy. On "Awful," she sings of the dark side of the celebrity myth: "He's drunk/He tastes like candy/He's so beautiful." It's sincere and sardonic all at once. In one line, she sums up what's both compelling and repulsive about the fast life of glamour and fame: it's that heady combination of beauty and evil, an intoxicating "candy" with a hollow, nasty center.

Yet as the music press is sometimes quick to forget, Hole is more than just Courtney Love. Patty Schemel's drumming is a major driving force behind the band's new energy. She lays down a thick and heavy concussive beat, and bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur effortlessly fills in the rhythmic blanks. If that makes Love into Stevie Nicks, Auf Der Maur into John McVie, and Schemel into Mick Fleetwood, then guitarist Eric Erlandson has to fill Lindsey Buckingham's massive rock shoes, a task he neatly accomplishes with his playing on Skin. Buckingham himself would envy the opening acoustic riff on "Heaven Tonight," perhaps the record's most beautiful moment. Most of all, Erlandson displays tremendous versatility in making Hole's stylistic leaps sound easy, skipping from hard rock to pseudo-grunge and over to glossy guitar pop without breaking a string.

Is grunge dead? These days, everything in pop is dead: rock is dead, alternative is dead, gangsta rap is dead. You might as well toss grunge into the unmarked grave as well. Whether or not grunge is still kicking and whining somewhere in the pop universe, Hole has burst through their committment to that music and attitude with an album that seduces the ear at the same time it tries to bite it off. Vicious commentary on the shallowness of celebrity hasn't sounded this sweet since Hotel California.

--Matt Springer

Thanks to Karen for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for formatting and sending it to us.