Love her or hate her, the one thing everyone could agree on about Courtney Love through the first third of her career was that she was never boring. Personally, I can defend the Babes in Toyland/Sonic Youth-like noise-rock of "Pretty on the Inside," the 1991 debut by her band Hole, as invigorating chaos (though the songs were best appreciated live), while "Live Through This" (1994), the album released just as the world was mourning the loss of her husband Kurt Cobain, remains hands-down one of the most powerful discs of the alternative-rock era.
But Courtney hasn't really been Courtney on record since. She experimented with lame California lite-rock fluff on "Celebrity Skin" (1998), slept-walk (or strolled while under the influence of Lord knows what) through "America's Sweetheart" (2004) and then spent the rest of the decade distracted by a never-ending series of controversies, lawsuits, stints in rehab and custody battles. As a result, there now exists an entire generation of rock fans who know her only as a train wreck and a punch line--rock's answer to Carol Burnett's gin-addled Miss Hannigan in "Annie."
Hosed down with a thoroughly generic hard-rock sheen and meticulously crafted with the help of hack songwriter for hire Linda Perry (a slightly hipper Kara Dioguardi) and former beau Billy Corgan, the 11 songs on her attempted comeback "Nobody's Daughter" not only lack the memorable melodies and potent drive of "Live Through This," but show little evidence of what was once a highly nuanced and strongly symbolic lyrical wit. (Cobain often has been credit for giving Love some of the best melodies on her classic album, but it's often glossed over that he himself said that his wife helped him hone and improve his own lyric writing.)
No, I am not expecting the now 45-year-old singer to crowd-surf or otherwise court death nightly on stage the way she once did. But certainly she could have mined the pain and drama of recent years to prompt something more than the depressing yawns and vitriol-laced but ultimately hollow bursts of bombast such as "Skinny Little Bitch," "Someone Else's Bed" and "How Dirty Gets Clean." Rather than reasserting herself as a force to be reckoned with, Love now just makes me yearn to hit eject and listen instead to the latest from the Vivian Girls or the Screaming Females, both of whom could eat this latest version of Hole for breakfast.
ROKY ERICKSON, "TRUE LOVE CAST OUT ALL EVIL"
For those familiar with Roky Erickson as the inimitable voice of psychedelic-rock pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators and a fantastically weird but wonderful solo artist through the '70s and into the early '80s, the initial impulse is to be overjoyed that this album even exists--it's his real attempt at new music since "All That May Do My Rhyme" in 1995, though some would say he really stopped creating in the mid-'80s. Second in infamy only to Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett as one of rock's saddest examples of a mental breakdown, Erickson spent nearly 20 years living in seclusion and poverty, battling schizophrenia and numerous other problems even as countless musicians continued to cite him as a towering inspiration.
Lovingly nursed back to health by his younger brother Sumner, Roky returned to live performance early in the new millennium, tentative at first, but gaining confidence with every show he did. Now comes his return to the recording studio, overseen with obvious devotion by Will Sheff of the Texas roots-rock band Okkervil River.
The emphasis here is on the more quiet and introspective Erickson--a strain of pretty if sometimes strange balladry that's run throughout his career--with the focus on his acoustic guitar and a voice that remains impressively vibrant, still evoking a mix of Buddy Holly and James Brown, as has often been said. In songs such as "Please Judge," "Bring Back the Past" and "Be and Bring Me Home," some actually years old, the artist longs for peace, but you can still sense the demons scratching at his door.
It's disappointing the monsters don't get to growl a bit more: Sheff hardly is Erickson's ideal collaborator; a much better choice would have been Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who'd talked about wanting to repay a lifelong inspiration. Still, there are more than enough moments of gentle beauty to reward fans, even if new initiates would be much better off starting with one of several strong career retrospectives.