Live Through This
After weighing what we've learned from the celebrity press (now there's a reliable source), it seems clear that Courtney Love is an erratic wreck of a human being--and since having your husband blow his brains out isn't exactly a recipe for renewed mental health, she's likely to stay that way. Moreover, reports of her arrest for drug possession the day before Kurt Cobain's death and an article in the Los Angeles Times that alleged that she helped cover up what's now widely seen as Cobain's first suicide attempt (his overdose in Rome last month initially had been characterized as a "celebration" of his reunion with Love) are unlikely to endear her to a still-mourning rock public. Which is a roundabout way of saying that this album, the major-label debut of Love's longtime group, is apt to be either ignored by Cobain fans who see her as a leech or reviled by observers who hold her responsible for her marriage being a match made in hell. It deserves neither of these fates: Live Through This isn't a great album, but it's quite a good one. The majority of Hole's previous work had promulgated sheer rock noise to the exclusion of subtler musical moves, and while the latest album contains its share of grungy moments, it also varies tempos and volume in a manner that suggests Love had been listening to her Nirvana records before she went into the studio. The musicianship is sloppy and solid at the same time, Love's vocals (particularly on more challenging pieces such as "Softer, Softest") are varied and compelling, and the songs themselves, while hardly groundbreaking, hold up surprisingly well. There's no shortage of tabloid fodder here--the song "Asking for It" includes the lines "If you live through this with me/I swear I will die for you"--but there's also enough meat to justify Love's not infrequent overstatements. Those who are able to listen to the disc with an open mind will likely agree; those who think Courtney helped Kurt pull the trigger will put this in File 13, right next to their Yoko Ono collection.--Michael Roberts
Vauxhall and I
Longtime Morrissey fans won't find many surprises here. Once again, the confessional poet and sometime master song-craftsman bares his soul in lyrics such as "I am hated for loving/ Anonymous call, poison pen/Brick in the small of the back again/I still don't belong to anyone--I am mine." The trouble is, we know his soul very well by now. He is ours--a fact that leaves many of his latest verses seeming repetitious. Unfortunately, his current batch of self-professed habits, hangups and idiosyncracies (celibacy, distrust of others, repression) are the same ones that have wet his creative quill for the past twelve years. He's certainly capable of exploring new emotions: His work with the Smiths, as well as much of his early solo material, includes some of pop music's most honest and memorable lyrics to date. On Vauxhall and I, the honesty is still present, but whether or not it's memorable is another question. If you enjoyed Morrissey's literate expressions of emotional ambivalence and inner turmoil years ago, you may enjoy them now. It is doubtful, however, that you will still be intrigued by them. This album fits like an old shoe, but it's obviously time for a new pair.--Justin McLean
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This is country music rooted in the Appalachians of the early twentieth century, when performers used traditional instrumentation, spare arrangements and singing that came straight through the nose in the service of simple yet timeless sentiments. As that description implies, it's also music that has virtually nothing in common with the majority of C&W fodder that's being snapped up by urban cowpokes these days--which has a lot to do with how fresh, vital and real it sounds. DeMent's sturdy near-yodel is the focus of each of these songs, most of which she's written in a style that shucks commercial considerations in favor of emotion as bare as a centerfold's backside. Her tales of heartbreak ("Calling for You," "No Time to Cry") are stark, her youthful reminiscing ("Childhood Memories") precise and evocative, and her taste in covers (Maybelle Carter's "Troublesome Waters," Lefty Frizzell's "Mom and Dad's Waltz") shows a healthy disregard for trendiness. In spite of her presence on a major label, DeMent will likely remain a cult figure, known and beloved by a bare handful of listeners in comparison to today's crossover country stars. But in fifty years her music will still sound beautiful, and most of theirs will still sound like shit.--Roberts