Celebrity Skin

Courtney Love's glamorously defiant look on the cover of Celebrity Skin, the latest CD by her band Hole, fits with her penchant for blissful contradiction. Her tousled hair and skimpy see-through T-shirt are as punk and stylish as the burning trees behind her, but the antihero persona doesn't match the record's controlled sound.

1994's brilliant Live Through This was a sharp, unmistakable picture of Love's anger and passion, showcasing violent urgency and defiant strength ("Violet" and "Asking for It") and a complicated, gritty tenderness ("Doll Parts" and "Softer, Softest"). Husband Kurt Cobain's suicide both eclipsed and launched that record; four years later, Celebrity Skin deals with the charged atmosphere and fallout after his death. But where Love might be expected to be at her most impassioned and venomous, she has instead gotten a life and moved on, choosing comfort over chaos. Together with guitarist Eric Erlandson, bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, and drummer Patty Schemel, Love sacrifices some of the band's aching punk power in favor of emotional progress.

Songs such as "Awful," "Malibu," "Dying," and "Hit So Hard" typify the new approach, with more effects used on Love's voice and layers of sound that smooth the band's familiar rawness. And when Love sings "Hey hey/You know what to do/Oh baby, drive away to Malibu," one wonders if the movie-star life in sunny Los Angeles has dulled her edge. "Playing Your Song" answers that question, as she dresses down fans who condemn alternative bands for selling out yet eagerly gobble up their products. "You're drunk on apathy" she scolds, shrieking, "Oh, they've bought and sold it all/It's gone/They've taken it and built a mall/And now they're playing your song." "Boys on the Radio" and "Heaven Tonight" are also strong, capturing a bit of the early Pretenders sound with wistful, jangling guitars and Love's sinewy vocals.

And as always, there's some noise and controversy. Love's ex-boyfriend, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, has loudly claimed credit for the record (though having co-written five of twelve songs hardly makes him a Svengali), and his influence is apparent in the loud, brawny title track. "Oh make me over/I'm all I want to be" Love challenges in the opening lines, thick guitars grinding behind her as she spins her tale of Hollywood glitterati and the cocktail flu. "No second billing 'cause you're a star now" she sings to her subject, chiding, "Oh, Cinderella/They aren't sluts like you."

Although the record as a whole lacks the exposed-nerve emotion of its predecessor, we still see the scars as Love examines her life with and without Cobain. "I went down for the remains/Sort through all your blurs and stains" she mourns in "Use Once & Destroy," and in "Northern Star," she finally breaks through to the familiar rage. She's broken and screaming as she sings, "And I want you/And blessed are the broken/And I beg you/No loneliness, no misery is worth you." Celebrity Skin doesn't fulfill the promise heard on Live Through This, but it demonstrates a willingness by Love and the band to embrace life, to move forward and finally step out of Cobain's long shadow.

-- Robin Myrick

Inquisition Symphony

Alumni of the prestigious Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, the four members of Apocalyptica merge classical music with the distortion and riffage of modern-day heavy metal. As the most famous cello-playing metal band in Finland and, perhaps, the world, Apocalyptica routinely reinterprets the music of Metallica with the subtlety of a hot poker. Wraparound shades, long dyed-blond hair -- all the superficial accouterments of the rock world figure highly in their appearance, but their musical chops are undeniable. And once the novelty of hearing "Enter Sandman" twisted into distorted Muzak has passed (the band uses contact mics on their cellos, which are often filtered through distortion boxes), the music works on a completely different level.

Sawing furiously to re-create the carpel-tunnel-syndrome attack of Metallica's rhythm section, Apocalyptica emerges with a sinister tonal cluster that could cause goth-heads the world over to quake in their boots. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is transformed into horror-movie music, the creak of the strings sounding much like floorboards being pried loose to reveal Edgar Allen Poe's grotesquely carved "Tell-Tale Heart" victim. Metallica's epic "Nothing Else Matters" could be the chamber music accompaniment for an Ingmar Bergman film, as the downcast notes borrowed from Metallica singer James Hetfield's insidious bark drip and ooze in contemplative sorrow. You need not know the Metallica originals to understand or simply enjoy the presentation. Though the band's few originals lack Metallica's sense of melody and instead provide mostly crushing mechanical exercises, there is no doubt of Apocalyptica's sonic brawn or its abilities. Easing the classical music world's access to unusual melodic form should be their next step to world dominance, or at least to the next musical plateau.

-- Rob O'Connor

(Red Ant)

According to their bio, Crumb's music is a shotgun wedding of new wave melody and heavy metal clangor, and for once the hype is true. Loud, fast, and stupid, with just the right amount of sentimentality, >Seconds>Minutes>Hours> comes on like the mutant spawn of Cheap Trick and the Ramones. This is the record Foo Fighters could make if they would just stay focused, and the record the Replacements could have made had they not flamed out on their own withering cynicism. In other words, >Seconds>Minutes>Hours> is a career-defining record, a personal best, maybe even a masterpiece.

What's most impressive about Seconds is how artfully it reconciles cynical modern rock sensibilities with hair-band heroics. Much of the record's success is attributable to producer Beau Hill, who oversaw the recording of those old Ratt albums. Seconds also features guest performances by ex-Warrant vocalist Jani Lane, who sings so well he nearly redeems himself. But ultimately it's the songwriting team of guitarist Mark Weisberg and singer Robby Cronholm that shines brightest; they compose with all the assured flair of a Year 2000 Lennon and McCartney.

Not only will Seconds make your car run faster and smoother, it'll make confetti shoot out your tailpipe. Huge guitar sounds, a marvelous melodic thrust, and songs so anthemic you'll want to rush out and conquer a neighboring suburb make this is one of the smartest and hardest-rocking albums so far this year.

-- Bruce Britt


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