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Turn Up That Noise

An eclectic survey of recent recordings.

Stephen Grimstead, Editor

Hole, Celebrity Skin (DGC)

Hole lotta posing going on.
It seems that Courtney Love’s Hollywood makeover affected more than her physical appearance. Her music has been drained of the angst and edge that once made it interesting.

Love’s long-dormant band Hole has just released its first record since 1994’s Live Through This, and in the interim there’s been a peculiar transformation. The previous album was a fine piece of work, with several durable hits (“Violet,” “Miss World,” “Doll Parts”). Now, admittedly, grunge is dead, but who’d have thought Hole would turn into a cross between Veruca Salt and Belly? Celebrity Skin, a concept album that purports to laud all things Californian, is mostly jangle-pop, often so slickly produced it verges on bubblegum. It’s not bad, exactly, just generic and forgettable.

What happened? Well, this lends credence to widespread suspicions that Love’s late husband Kurt Cobain was the true talent behind Live Through This. That album’s songs followed the familiar Nirvana pattern of melodic verses alternating with explosive, screamed choruses, and it was thick with pain and irony. Without Cobain, Love still tries to convince us she’s got an attitude, but the former grunge queen has become Miss Sunshine – one of the new songs, “Malibu,” is an homage to the Beach Boys.

Is Love’s music really orchestrated by the men in her life? Consider this: Her friend Billy Corgan had a substantial hand in writing and producing this album (he’s credited on five songs), and “Northern Star” – one of the better tracks – sounds very much like Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight,” complete with a string section and Love’s whining drone, which seems to be a conscious imitation of Corgan’s annoying voice.

If Celebrity Skin proves anything, it’s that Love is no great singer. Now that she’s stopped screaming, the flatness of her monotone voice can’t be disguised. You can hear her cigarette-diminished lungs sucking up air before each phrase, and she doesn’t have enough breath to sustain a note.

But hey – with all that plastic surgery, she looks like a movie starlet onstage. In pop music, it’s possible to succeed based on image alone – luckily for Love, because her sound has no substance. – Debbie Gilbert

Bare Jr., Boo-Tay (Immortal)

Here is a major-label debut that slays me almost as much as I was slain by my first encounter with the Replacements so many hazy, frenzied, wasted years ago…and I don’t even listen to this kind of stuff anymore.

Bobby Bare Jr. sings and writes like Paul Westerberg with an impeccable country-music pedigree; not too surprising when you consider the fact that Jr. sprang from famed country artist Bobby Bare and grew up as a rock-and-roller within Nashville’s hyper “Music City U.S.A.” culture.

Boo-Tay shows the younger Bobby’s country influences without shame. But way more than anything else, this CD thumps with a true-blue rock-and-roll zeal. Bare and his bandmates claim and celebrate heroes from Neil Young to Ronnie Van Zant, Perry Farrell to Korn. And yes, Bare Jr. have put more than a touch of Jason & the Scorchers’ mojo to good use here.

This band consistently pulls off that very toughest of tricks: They place their ragged, huffing/puffing, wobbling musical apparatus in motion and keep it moving without ever really allowing it to completely fall apart.

Boo-Tay’s lyrics reveal Bare’s capacity to grasp calamity while maintaining a survivor’s sense of amusement. On “Soggy Daisy,” an inspired ditty about various old folks dying in a nursing home of the same name, Bare writes, “Here are some people who would love to have lived/May have done things that they wish they never did/A great seducer/A horrible singer/An unknown psycho killer/A hopeless romantic/A survivor of the Titanic/A small person who wished he were gigantic/A loud person who thought too much of himself/A shy person who never knew he was better than everyone else/A great artist who knew he was a sham/A lawyer who always found a new way to scam…” On “The Most,” a manipulative beauty with a well-honed sense of “the power of her boo-tay” asks everyone she tries to make, “Do you care enough about me to beat the hell out of the one who loves me the most?” Bare’s keen observations regarding human screw-ups are particularly poignant/funny on “Faker,” when he declares, “Every corner she cuts reaches out and cuts her back/And every little white lie she tries to sell turns black as coal/What a heartbreaker, to be a failure as a faker…”

Boo-Tay is one excellent album, and if his label doesn’t let him down, Bobby Jr. should soon receive some well-deserved recognition.

– Stephen Grimstead


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