It's OK to admit it: You probably know more about Courtney Love from her role as Kurt Cobain's widow and her problems with the law then you know about her music. You may have heard of Hole, the band with which she put out three sometimes critically acclaimed and always cult-favorite '90s albums. But Love, for all her media hijinks and the cult of personality that surrounds her, is, primarily, a singer/musician. On her first solo album, America's Sweetheart (Virgin Records), she shows the brash confidence, rock 'n' roll chops, and loud, unabashed display of feminist desire that made Hole such a popular group among teenage girls and disaffected listeners of all ages.
On the first single, "Mono," Love sings about having "no penis to blame" in a music world that favors "brilliant boys we wanna f**k." Her frustration at a music industry filled with gender-related double standards is palpable. The desperate lyrics of "Mono" mesh well with the song's messy and frantic guitar sound, which sometimes recalls the mid-'90s Seattle grunge explosion that gave Love her first taste of musical success.
On "Sunset Strip," Love's shaky voice beautifully complements the subject of the fleeting nature of fame, revealing that she wanted to be famous because she came from "dirty, dark streets" where there was no one to "make the nightmares go away" and wanted a life that had to "sparkle... [and] shine." Adding to the harmony of the song, Brodie Dalle of The Distillers and Kim Deal of The Pixies join Love on backup vocals.
America's Sweetheart is an exhilarating and confident work from a woman who has a lot to prove and who is exasperated by a regimented, sexist culture that harshly judges her for the same activities that male rock stars are praised for on a daily basis. She's gone from punk to Hollywood glamour and back to somewhere in the middle again. She is the overt embodiment of the usually well-hidden secrets of Hollywood and the music industry. Love lives her life how she wants, and she understands the hypocrisy of the world in which she lives. This confidence - along with Love's unabashed display of her desires and flaws -- makes this record both one of the most feminist, and one of the most compelling, of the year.