February 16, 2004 12:00 PM

Courtney Love


“Look at me for the very last time/I’ve climbed so high/I’ve got no place left to climb/And I know no tomorrow.” These lyrics, from the the deeply personal “Sunset Strip,” one of 12 songs on Courtney Love’s much delayed solo debut, America’s Sweetheart, are somewhat disturbing given the rocker’s recent troubles. (Last fall Love attempted to break into the home of her ex-boyfriend, Sweetheart producer James Barber, overdosed on painkillers and made a suicide threat after losing custody of Frances Bean, her 11-year-old daughter with late husband Kurt Cobain.) But Love’s much publicized problems give an added poignancy to this, her first recording since Hole disbanded after releasing 1998’s Celebrity Skin. When she sings “You’ve gotta ride that black horse baby/Through the depths of Hell that I’ve been” on the plaintive ballad “Never Gonna Be the Same,” her pain is, sadly, very real. That can make Sweetheart a difficult listen at times. It’s hard not to wince when Love, who was once accused of taking heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean and had a recent stint in rehab, sings about the joys of drugs on the blistering first single, “Mono,” and in particular on “All the Drugs”: “With all all [sic] of my money/It doesn’t feel as good/As the drugs.” Musically, although grunge’s glory days are long over, Love sticks close to the Seattle sound that put her on the map. While that brings a bracing energy to tracks like the ripping rocker “Hello,” one can’t help but wish that Love had evolved more artistically after all this time. Linda Perry, the former 4 Non Blondes member who cowrote nine of this disc’s numbers, fails to make the same impact here that she did on her songs with Christina Aguilera and especially Pink. One suspects, however, that Love was too strong-willed to change her tune much. She may be America’s Sweetheart, but she’s nobody’s puppet.

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