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- Courtney Love »
No one would question Courtney Love’s aptitude for rock stardom. The woman has had more lives than Keith Richards and, over her career, has out-partied and out-misbehaved any male pop icon you could care to mention. Thus, it seems like a small miracle that she’s here tonight, on her 43rd birthday no less, to play her first UK show in seven years.
The last few hellish years left Ms Love without a band and saw her descend into a crack-induced nightmare, sometime in the middle of which she found just enough lucidity to record a solo album titled, in brilliantly on-form fashion, America’s Sweetheart. As an intimate insight into a fractured psyche, the album was a fascinating and painful listen (the train-wreck her detractors had long been mewling for), but it was a grand folly and a shadow of her work with Hole.
Tonight’s showcase is a road test of material from her forthcoming (nth) comeback album, Nobody’s Daughter, and the audience is largely made up of friends and hardcore fans that won tickets from her official website. The new backing band are green, youthful Brits and even encompass former Larrikin Love guitarist Micko Larkin and a keyboardist (no sign of the Lolita-ish cellist she advertised for, however) – and the similarities between new bassist Pato and much-missed Hole star Kristin Pfaff verge on the spooky.
As Love takes to the stage in remarkably timely fashion, the audience greets the birthday girl with rapturous applause. The opening one-two punch of actually-good-new-song ‘Samantha’ and old favourite ‘Malibu’ is enough to make you wonder if anything went wrong in the first place. Later on ‘Miss World’ makes the room shake in such a way that if you close your eyes for a second it could be 1994 again.
Unfortunately, no matter how much everyone would like to ignore the fact, it is no longer 1994 and Courtney’s voice has been hit hard by her recent crack habit and a lifetime of chain-smoking. She sounded torn to shreds on America’s Sweetheart and, tragically, it seems that sobriety has come too late to reverse the problem. It might not have been made so painfully obvious if she had continued down the grunge path where hitting a note was a secondary consideration, but sticking with the Fleetwood Mac-style California pop is doing her few favours.
Hit-maker and collaborator Linda Perry is name-checked as Love and her band launch into ‘Letter To God’ and I’m instantly reminded how these new songs miss the understated touch of Eric Erlandson. Hardly the quintessential grunge guitarist – no Hole song found room for a guitar solo – Erlandson’s understated fretwork managed to turn Courtney’s rough sketches of songs into something more than this, more than just power chords and major/minor progressions.
Although there’s no massive stylistic leap from …Sweetheart, most of the new songs are tighter and more succinct, and a solo acoustic version of ‘Never Go Hungry Again’ is genuinely heartfelt. You get the feeling that if the production sheen was kept to a minimum and it was allowed an organic, 1970s-style sound, this record could be an understated triumph. I fear there is little chance of this outcome. Courtney’s biggest problem now is she doesn’t know where her strengths lie and no one seems willing to point her in the right direction.
A brief pause in the set and a birthday cake and commemorative guitar are presented to the singer, who coos over her new band and dutifully blows out the candles (pictured). She later hands out chocolates to her musicians, insisting they all partake before she herself pops one in her mouth.
It’s still an amazing thing to see Courtney Love in person. She continues to exude the kind of easy charisma that Simon Cowell would sell his mother into slavery for. This isn’t the onstage whirlwind of a woman that brought Hole crashing into the public consciousness – we’ll likely never see her again – but, if this album is Courtney’s final curtain as she has hinted at, it just might afford her that little slice of dignity that she has fought tooth and nail for all these years.
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