Wednesday, March 3, 2004

America's Sweetheart

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 2004 at 12:00 AM

(This is pathetic.)

Man, she’s looking good these days. There was I, picturing her in my mind’s eye like that infamous shot of Jason Stollsteimer all beaten up and purple-stain bruised, but no. Long, shapely legs enclosed in sheer stockings; firm voluptuous breasts; ruby-red lips; smoldering long-lashed eyes … oh wait. It’s a drawing.

(This is worse than pathetic. This is ordinary.)

Man, she’s sounding good. There was I, thinking she only had one vocal style: halfway between aggravated whine and anguished yelp, somewhat hampered by the nicotine and pharmaceutical ravages of many years and the fact she can’t manage more than three consonants without gasping for breath. I was wrong. She has grace, style and a vocal range that teeters between the unbelievable and the unimaginable. She can invest otherwise laughable Sixth Form excretions of lyrics like “I know you’re dangerous/What a punk/You would never sell out/Just like I did Playboy/That was art/It didn’t count” (from “But Julian, I’m a Little Older Than You,” dedicated to the trust-fund singer of The Strokes) and “It’s time you and me/Had lots and lots of meaningless sex” (same song) with such pathos they transcend the messy, overpolished, faux-ragged music and flange effects. The toll of living hard and dangerously, of picking up lovers and discarding them like so many broken friends, of running naked down London’s Mall, of hanging out with Cameron and Drew and Edward, and all those other so fascinating film stars, has paid off handsomely. Courtney’s voice crackles and spits with verve, an emotional lightning storm flickering far off in the distance, warning America of its impending doom, a welter of accusation and bitterly bought lessons. … Oh wait. I’m thinking of Britney.

(This is awful. Not in an interesting, Princess-Diana’s-mangled-body-on-the-Internet way. Not in a decadent, last-rockstar-on-earth way. Dull. It’s very well making a career out of being a train wreck, but how fascinating is it to see the same track marks, the same contorted expressions year in, year out?)

Man, she’s such a talented lyric writer. There was I thinking that fame and drug abuse and the stinking stench of insincere flattery had knocked all original thought out of her years ago — certainly long before 1998’s Celebrity Skin (her previous album, and Hole’s third and final). There was I thinking the inclusion of dull-ass mainstream players like Bernie Taupin (when was the last time you heard a good Elton John song?) and Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera) meant that Courtney was plumb out of inspiration, as evinced by the way she plunders her own past on songs like this album’s opener, “Mono.” Oh wait, I’m thinking of Delores from The Cranberries. …

No, I’m not actually.

The opening track references at least half-a-dozen, far superior, cuts on her sometimes-OK 1994 grunge swan song Live Through This (an album that takes on resonance only because of its context: Kurt killed himself the same week it was released) and then flounders, helpless and lost. “All The Drugs,” meanwhile, contains the ridiculously trite lines, “Rock star/Pop star/Everybody dies/And all tomorrow’s parties/They have happened tonight.”

Like all the best 15-year-old girls, Courtney can’t spew out a line without directly quoting at least a dozen of her favorite authors. Trouble is, Courtney isn’t 15. I mean, she really isn’t. For “Sunset Strip” it’s The Velvet Underground. On “Zeplin Song” it’s Led Zeppelin (and throws in a mention of the Pistols like they have any relevance whatsoever on what she does). On “Mono” and “I’ll Do Anything” it’s herself. On “Almost Golden” it’s the Doors. On “Hello” most obviously and pitifully it’s Nirvana — but not in any sort of meaningful way. Instead, she forlornly and gratingly hollers the “Hello/hello/hello/hello” refrain from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — why? A cynic might think just to attract attention to an otherwise forgettable song.

The airbrushing on this record is absurd. On one level, it’s attempting to be an abrasive, kick-ass rock record (one assumes, from the inclusion of musicians who should really know better, such as the MC5’s Wayne Kramer and ex-Breeders Kim Deal). On another, it thinks it’s mainstream America.

But honey, you sure ain’t no Stevie Nicks. Or even Abba. Or even The Distillers.

And you certainly ain’t the MC5.

(Here’s a thought. Recording this album almost certainly cost more money than you or I will see in a lifetime. Does this mean it’s good, brimful of ideas and melody? Of course it doesn’t. All it means is Courtney didn’t have a single idea when she entered the studio, and had even less of one when she left. The debut Nirvana album was recorded for $606. The debut White Stripes album was recorded here in Detroit for $1,700. The Rolling Stones used four tracks. Leadbelly didn’t even have a drummer. No … of course, Courtney … we’re not talking about the same thing at all here. It’s entirely different. These were fucking great rock records.)

Man, she certainly can pick her friends. Not for Courtney the easy option of surrounding yourself with grinning lapdogs and asinine Major League Players who’ll agree with you on anything as long as you pay them enough. No, sir! Not for Courtney the seductive route of partying with only those whose names guarantee 2-inch gossip column headlines. No, sir. Courtney has integrity, she has passion and she believes in her rock ’n’ roll. “But they say that rock is dead” she sings on “Mono” from the pampered cloud where she’s slumming it with Russell and Jimmy and Larry and Julian and all the rest of the gang, “and it’s probably true.”

How the fuck would you know, sweetie?

(This is what happens when you end up believing your own press.

Everett True is a freelance writer and the author of Live Through This: American Rock Music in the Nineties and other popular titles. E-mail comments to


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