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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Girl punk band is no black Hole

Published: March 7, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

diverse-city-3-7-08_page_3_image_0002.jpgCourtney Love doesn’t get a lot of positive press these days. In fact, I don’t think she’s gotten much positive press in her entire career, and there are legitimate reasons for that. Her behaviors, habits, and attention grabbing comments are generally thought of as part of one of the world’s most ridiculous circus acts. I don’t claim to be enamored with Ms. Love, but I do feel that she has made a positive mark in her life. That positive mark lies squarely with her band Hole.

Hole is a remarkable bit of fiery, messy girl punk that is as captivating as it is intense. It is unfortunate that Courtney Love’s train wreck of a personal life has overshadowed the music, which should be taken on its own merit.

Over its span of existence, Hole has put out three proper studio albums, each sporting a different feel, style, and message. Courtney Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson are the primary creative force behind Hole, as the rhythm section would over the band’s existence be in an almost constant state of flux. Nonetheless, they have crafted three completely unique albums, exercises in various genres, which show a willingness to rise above the current trends in music they exist amongst.

Their first album, 1991’s Pretty on the Inside is Hole and Courtney Love at their most uncompromising. A collection of jagged, fuzzed out, heavy dirges, Pretty on the Inside showcases Courtney Love’s guttural scream, an effective weapon amongst the band’s onslaught of noise, creating pathos where there was only anger. Pretty on the Inside is, as all Hole albums are, about Courtney Love and as such the album is violent, combative, and full of some strange, frightening sexuality. From albums such as this and others is where the term “Kinderwhore” comes from. Nevertheless, while this album is Hole’s weakest effort, it is also its most uncompromising.

Live Through This was Hole’s next album, and its greatest achievement. The songs are far more focused, relying less on straight up noise, and more on textured distortion and a surging rush of guitars. On songs like “Violet” and “Jennifer’s Body,” Love’s screams are at their finest point: visceral, melodic, and somewhat exposed. The album also dabbles in softer, more vulnerable moments, such as the massive hit “Doll Parts” or “Softer, Softest.” On tracks like these, stripped down to just guitar and voice, Courtney Love proves her songwriting talents.

This album was released right around the time of Kurt Cobain’s death, and as such may have received significantly higher sales than expected.

However, the album was recorded quite some time beforehand, and any claims that the album was a capitalization on Love’s husband’s death are simply bogus. That being said, Live Through This is punk rock at its finest: urgent, loud, and nakedly emotional.

It took a further four years for Hole to produce its follow-up and last album, Celebrity Skin. This album is a real departure for the band, as they completely ditch their punk roots for a cleaned up, power-pop sound. And it totally works. The album produced such radio hits as the title track and “Malibu,” and evidenced a real sunny pop angle, that still wasn’t devoid of some real rock edges. Nonetheless, this album represents a clear transformation in the band, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Hole’s mark has been lost lately in music history. People look back and see them as a secondary entry into the grunge scene, a band riding Nirvana’s coattails. That argument is without merit.

As a band, Hole managed to fit in a vaguely grunge sound on one album (its first), which was written and produced well before that scene ever even had a name, let alone dominated the airwaves. The rest of their output is similarly tough to categorize. In the end, one must look to the sound at their core, which always was punk rock. In a way, Hole’s influence should not be forgotten, as one can trace its sound and style to many popular female-led punk groups that have made their mark in recent years, including such acts as Sleater-Kinney and the Distillers.

So in a way, revisionist history paints Hole in an unfortunate light, especially with the reputation of its primary member. This is unfortunate, because an unbiased listen might prove Hole’s output to be quite compelling music.