Compared to Holes previous efforts, ‘Celebrity Skin’ is much more laid back and poppy. Courtney Love no longer screams as if she is being tortured, the drums are now longer pounding and Eric Erlandson’s guitar no longer sounds like its being strangled.
Gone are the roaring guitars and the aggressive lyrics that filled ‘Live Through This’ and ‘Pretty On The Inside’. What remains is a group of nice clean pop rock songs. Some grunge influences remain and there are occasionally some dark and angst filled lyrics but usually they are hidden underneath poppy beats and catchy melodies.
It was a bold move for a band that was almost always associated with grunge, but even though ‘Celebrity Skin’ doesn’t sound anything like the album that came before it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. With the help of Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan (who co-wrote five of the album’s songs) Hole has come up with a good mix of pop and grunge, with just enough of each to keep the mainstream crowd and the hard core fans listening.
Hole at the time were:
- Courtney Love – Vocals, Guitar
- Eric Erlandson – Guitar
- Melissa Auf Der Maur – Bass, Backing Vocals
- Patty Schemel – Drums
1) Celebrity Skin (2:42) – Kicks off with the title track, which as always is one of the highlights of the album. It’s the typical sounding pop rock song. Nice shining guitars with clean vocals that sound like they’ve been tweaked a bit with pro-tools. It’s a very catchy song with just three chords being played in the verse using the ‘Start stop’ formula so to leave spaces for Courtney’s vocals. Around the one minute mark an acoustic bridge comes in with Courtney singing, “No second billings, because you’re a star now, oh Cinderalla they aren’t sluts like you”, which shows that Hole still has a bit of the riot grrrl left in them. Overall a good example of what this album sounds like (very catchy and very clean). 4/5
2) Awful (3:16) – Another album highlight. It kicks off straight away with an acoustic guitar strumming simple chords over a basic drumbeat. Courtney’s voice sounds very tweaked on this song and sounds a lot higher and sweeter than it usually does. The lyrics go “Sweet love, sweet cherry, make it awful, it’s your life, it’s your party, make it awful”. As cheesy as the lyrics sound they really fit well with the flow of the song and have a very catchy melody that you can’t resist clicking your fingers to. At 2:20 there’s a bridge with Courtney quietly singing “Just shut up, you’re only sixteen”. Apart from being slightly repeatative with the lyrics, this is a very good pop song and is definitely worth a listen. 3.5/5
3) Hit So Hard (4:00) – Starts with vague bass notes being played in the background before the rest of the instruments join in at 0:10. It has a similar sound and feeling to the previous track except maybe not as catchy. Also Courtney’s voice sound quite flat and bland. At 0:50 the chorus starts with the lyrics “He hit so hard, I saw stars, he hit so hard, I saw god”. Personally I can’t imagine Courtney Love seeing god in any shape or form so I’m guessing it’s a metaphor (I hope). Overall a rather bland song compared to the two before it but even so it’s still worth a listen. 2.5/5
4) Malibu (3:50) – This is the single that made the album famous (and pushed it up to platinum status). All the instruments start off together straight away with a rather spacey sounding acoustic guitar, groovy bass line and a basic drum beat. Again the vocals in this song sound quite higher and cleaner than they should be but it isn’t obvious enough to bring the song down in anyway. At 0:46 the chorus starts (in my opinion probably the catchiest chorus off the whole album) with Love and Auf Der Maur singing in harmony together (which is something you don’t hear too often). The lyrics go “Hey, hey, you know what to do, oh baby drive away to Malibu”. After another verse and chorus the bridge comes in at 2:06 with lyrics like “And I know love will tear you apart, and I know the darkest secret of your heart”. Then it’s back into the chorus again with an almost distorted guitar being played. Overall this is one of the best songs off the album. 4/5
5) Reasons To Be Beautiful (5:19) – This is probably one of the most raw songs of the album, showing that they haven’t completely left grunge behind. It kicks off straight away with a semi distorted guitar and Courtney half singing half screaming, “Love hangs herself, with the bed sheets in her cell”. I actually really like the vocals on this song, even though they are quite strained it just sounds more like the Hole that used to be. Unfortunately the song gets a bit repeatitive and sounds like it could have about two minutes shaved off it. Overall a good song but it sounds a bit empty with just the semi distorted guitars, I keep feeling its going to get heavy but it never does. 3/5
6) Dying (3:44) – The weakest song off the album. Starts with an acoustic guitar being played very lightly in the background and annoying clicking noises. Then every now and then some you can hear Courtney muttering and breathing in the background. The lyrics are just annoying and bland “Remember you promised me, I’m dying, I’m dying please, I want to and I need to be under your skin”. Courtney vocals just sound awful for most of the song, around the two minute mark her voice starts to sound a bit better but it still feels rather annoying with lyrics like “Now I know that love is dead, you’ve come to bury me”. After that the chorus is just repeated until the end. Overall a poor attempt at an emotional ballad. 1.5/5
7) Use Once & Destroy (5:04) – Another one of the more grungy songs of the album. Starts with just a distorted bass then soon after the drums join in to make a rather mechanical feel. At 0:38 the guitar joins in as well with lots of weird spacey effects. They lyrics are rather average and aren’t that noticeable. At 1:25 the chorus starts with lots of catchy lyrics and almost heavy guitar parts. There seem to be lots of effects added in during the song which really ruin it in my opinion. Personally I think it would have sounded a lot better with just the basic instruments giving it a more raw grungy feel. After the second chorus there is a short bridge with just lots of strange effects and sounds which should have just been left out. This would have been a good song if it didn’t have so many stupid effects and guitar layering. It is still worth a listen though. 2.5/5
8) Northern Star (4:58) – Even though this is the slowest and quietest song off the album it is probably the darkest and most intense. When I first heard it I really didn’t like it but the more I listened to it the more I came to enjoy and appreciate the song. Starting with just an acoustic guitar, the vocals come in at 0:10 with very angst filled and almost sad lyrics “When I cry and no-one can hear, inhale, the blinded eyes that see chaos”, and “And I wait for you, I’ll cherish all my misery alone”. In the background occasional rolls on the floor tom just add to the haunting feel. At 2:07 a quiet drum roll adds to the acoustic guitar and the song starts to build up. Then it goes back into a quiet acoustic chorus. At 3:28 my personal highlight of the song begins with the acoustic being strumming over a drum roll with Courtney screaming angrily “No loneliness, no misery is worth you, I’ll tear his heart out, it’s cold as ice, it’s mine”. Overall this is a great ballad and lyrically is a lot more like some of Hole’s earlier stuff. 4/5
9) Boys On The Radio (5:09) – Another pop song. Courtney’s voice sounds very annoying here with very obvious tweaking done to it. The catchy chorus’s manage to save the song with lyrics like “When the water is too deep, you can close your eyes and sleep, tonight”. At 2:50 Courtney quietly sings “I let you in, under my skin”. Overall this is just a typical catchy mainstream pop song. Even though at some points it is fairly annoying and repeatitive it is still worth a listen 2.5/5
10) Heaven Tonight (3:31) – Starts with a strange acoustic riff that sounds like something out of a Disney movie. After twelve seconds the rest of the band joins in, the tune here is very annoying and very poppy. The chorus is Courtney simply whining “Tonight, tonight”. Overall this would be a good track to skip, it is just way too poppy and annoying. 1.5/5
11) Playing Your Song (3:21) – Starts with another strange guitar riff with echo effects. This is another one of the more grungy songs on the album with Courtney singing about how record companies and radio stations steal your money, sell you out and play your song. This song also includes the only use of the ‘F’ word on the album with Courtney spitting out “Hey you, so bored and cynical, it’s f*cking wonderful that they sold you out”. The chorus has some of the album’s ‘almost screaming’ in it with Courtney singing, “They sold it out and built a mall”. At 1:30 the song slows down into the bridge with Courtney whispering over a spacey guitar riff. Then it’s back into the verse and chorus before ending with a growl of ‘YEAH’. Overall quite a good song but at some points it sounds like the parts don’t really fit together. 3/5
12) Petals (5:29) – The longest song off the album. Starts with some weird sounds of a wind before the actual song begins. The vocals on this song actually don’t sound tweaked which is a real bonus. At 0:55 the chorus begins with Courtney mournfully singing “Tear the petals off of you, make you tell the truth, Tear the petals off of you, yeah”. After another verse (in which Courtney attempts to explain how the world is a ‘whore’) the chorus is repeated then goes into quite a hard bridge, with some ‘ooooing’ following it. The chorus is repeated until the end of the song which is actually at 4:15 but it is stretched out with lots of violin bits and bobs to fill up the extra minute or so. Even though this isn’t the best song off the album, it sounds very tight and everything seems to fit well together (unlike some of the other tracks). 3/5
Things I Liked About The Album:
Most of the songs sound quite tight and rehearsed. All the songs are catchy in one way or another with definite highlights in ‘Celebrity Skin’ and ‘Malibu’ (the two singles). The songs on this album are overall much better crafted than the stuff off ‘Pretty On The Inside’ and seem to rival ‘Live Through This’. The guitar parts are fairly good, nothing amazing but Hole never really were into intricate riffing. The bass is average but seems to fit the songs well and the drums are basic but do the job.
Things I Didn’t Like About The Album:
A couple of the songs are just very bland and boring, ‘Dying’ in particular is probably the worst off the album. Others are just almost too catchy, so that after one or two listens they become torture like ‘Heaven Tonight’. The guitars often sound very wimpy and are only semi distorted at best, I really enjoy big roaring riffs so this is something I’m not too happy with. Also the tweaked vocals start to get annoying after a while.
- Celebrity Skin
- Northern Star
Overall a very good album and a great buy if you are into pop rock. The songs are very well crafted and the song structures and lyrics have matured but then on the other hand it lacks the raw, gritty feel that the Hole’s previous albums had. That’s why this album gets a 3/5.