Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Does Courtney Love Write Her Music?

With every subsequent album Courtney Love releases, either as Hole or as a solo artist, the once-kooky idea that her masterpiece, 1994's Live Through This, was at the least co-written by Kurt Cobain seems more and more plausible. Her last three releases, Hole's final proper album Celebrity Skin, her solo-record America's Sweetheart, and the new album by Hole-in-name-only Nobody's Daughter, feature a rotating cast of credited co-writers, among them Billy Corgan, Linda Perry, and Bernie Taupin.

On the surface, Love's heavy use of collaborators is not proof enough that Cobain had a hand in Live Through This. But listening to Hole's three proper albums in order, you can't deny something fishy is afoot.

Hole's first album, Pretty On the Inside, is a muddy, brash mess. The songs are amateurish and alienating, with no sign of the musicality of the following albums. Then there's Live Through This, a work whose quality was a stunning leap forward. It's not only one of the best albums of the nineties, but one of the greatest rock albums of all time. It's also sounds a lot like a Nirvana record. As I've remarked in this blog before:
Live Through This has one notable virtue, which lifts it aloft the above complaints and makes it compulsively listenable: its songs are incredible. They are gorgeous and furious, and almost always at the same time. This is the genius of the record. This loud soft loud, this melodicism with noise, this textural juxtaposition, is, of course, the trademark of the Pixies and Nirvana.
Sure, it's possible that Love absorbed Cobain's style by means of proximity. But even though Cobain didn't produce songs that match the quality of Live Through This until Nevermind, there were signs of Cobain's signature style and massive talent on Bleach. In Hole's case, the difference in sound and quality between Pretty On the Inside and Live Through This almost comes out of the blue, fully formed.

Hole's next album, Celebrity Skin, was released four years later, and sounded nothing like its predecessor. It's a good album, filled with shimmering power pop. Billy Corgan is credited on half the songs, but at the time, Corgan griped that he helped write more than he was credited for. Again, it's hard not to hear it as a Smashing Pumpkins album with Courtney Love at the mic. I've only heard bits and pieces of America's Sweetheart and Nobody's Daughter, but what I've heard sounds like the anonymous hack-rock of Linda Perry.

The schizophrenia of Courtney Love's music, and her heavy use of collaborators, reveals that Love lacks a musical identity. (Her lyrics, on the other hand, are unmistakeably her own.) So, is it possible, or even likely, that Love wrote the music to Live Through This? I'm not so sure anymore. Does it matter? Only as an exercise in music-nerd sleuthing. In the end, Live Through This remains a classic, be it the product of Courtney Love's talent, or the best album Nirvana never released.