Love songs lead pack


February 10, 2004


"Super Tuesday," the music industry calls its major release days. This one, the first of 2004, brings offerings from a trio of female superstars, a side project from an alternative-rock hero and product from the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" posse.

Here is a look at the latest by Courtney Love, Dave Grohl, Norah Jones and Kylie Minogue.



n choosing the ironic title of her first official solo album, Courtney Love is playing on her status as the baddest of rock's bad girls, but many listeners will snicker for a different reason: They're sick and tired of her obnoxious Hollywood persona and scandalous antics, and they just wish she'd go away. Like a cockroach after the nuclear holocaust or Keith Richards, however, the Widow Cobain survives against all odds, and anyone who's able to set aside the many distractions she's created will be rewarded with some of the best music of her career, an album that places a close second to 1994's masterful "Live Through This."

Granted, "America's Sweetheart" is long overdue--it follows Love's last album with Hole, 1998's fairly wretched "Celebrity Skin" -- and the persona has grown to an extent where it overshadows everything else she does. But she's aware of that, and the lyrics comment on the problem throughout these 12 tracks in a manner that captures her style in conversation: quick, scattered and brilliantly sarcastic, alternately seducing and raging ("Shut up!" she rails at critics in several songs), pairing seemingly heartfelt expressions of self-doubt ("I've climbed so high I've got no place left to climb") with egotistical boasts ("Is this the part ... where I've gotta come save the day?"), and wittily referencing the rockers she would like us to consider as her peers (among the cool: the Ramones, Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground, the Strokes, "Almost Famous" and, of course, her late husband's band, Nirvana).

This rushing torrent of words -- unleashed in a banshee howl that is still surprisingly robust -- is paired with hard-rocking but ultra-melodic sounds that are among the best money could buy: The disc is produced in an uncompromising, in-your-face style by Love's on-again, off-again boyfriend, James Barber (Ryan Adams), Josh Abraham (Staind) and Matt Serletic (Aerosmith, Santana); co-writers include Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera) and Bernie Taupin (Elton John), and the sounds are driven by Wayne Kramer (MC5), Scott McCloud (Girls Against Boys) and Kim Deal (the Pixies, the Breeders).

"You want my massive power," Love declares in the anthemic "Sunset Strip." It's true -- some of us still do. We vastly prefer that musical muscle to the lurid headlines, and Love has delivered the goods.



The astounding multiplatinum, Grammy-winning success of 2002's "Come Away With Me," the debut by then-22-year-old New York singer, songwriter and pianist Norah Jones, was difficult to explain: The soft, smoky, gently lilting sounds were not without their romantic, easy-listening charms, but the cabarets and coffeehouses of America are filled with many a chanteuse who's just as talented. Jones just happened to be the lucky girl that the music industry anointed as the chosen one.

Her second album offers more of the same, with the addition of a well-heeled countrypolitan vibe: Dolly Parton guests on "Creepin' In," and the covers include "Be Here to Love Me" by Townes Van Zandt as well as tracks by Tom Waits ("The Long Way Home") and Duke Ellington (Jones rewrites his "Melancholia" as "Don't Miss You at All"). An unapologetic throwback to a time before rock and rap, Jones does a fine job evoking candlelit seductions in dark nightclubs where the tuxedo-clad men are all dapper and charming and the tastefully flirtatious women in their sequined evening gowns seduce their beaux with sharp repartee and assets they leave to the imagination.

That world is an anachronism today, and it probably never existed exactly as Jones imagines outside of Breakfast at Tiffany's. But to the extent that it did, you have to wonder: Why not go back and check out the real deal instead of the faux simulation presented by "Feels Like Home"?



An inexplicable phenomenon in a different genre, the diminutive Australian dance diva Kylie Minogue is a Madonna-level superstar at home, in Europe and most of all in the U.K. Her last album, "Fever," was her most successful to date, and her 13th offering, "Body Language," continues in that vein, merging a watered-down take on cutting-edge techno with mainstream pop charms, Minogue's squeaky chirping and her sexy come-on's ("Here's my secret/I'm a girl who likes her fun").

As long-running disco queens go, Minogue has nothing on our own Maddy, not to mention the Cher of "Believe," and America remains skeptical, with good reason: In a two-minute dose on the dance floor, she's barely tolerable; at any greater length, she's fingernails-on-the-blackboard annoying.



Speaking of Nirvana, Cobain's former bandmate, Dave Grohl, has taken some time off from his radio-friendly Foo Fighters and used his rock-star cache to indulge himself in a project that pays homage to his roots in mid-'80s underground metal. Probot finds Grohl in the role that suits him best -- as a monster drummer -- propelling a set of death-metal thrashers fleshed out by guitarists Matt Sweeney (Zwan) and Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) and highlighting some of his favorite screamers, including King Diamond, Lemmy, Snake (Voivod), Mike Dean (Corrosion of Conformity), Max Cavalera (Sepultura) and, best of all, Scott "Wino" Weinrich (the Obsessed).

These dozen tracks offer nothing earthshakingly original, and they aren't intended to -- Grohl's just having fun, and he knows he can't really touch the hems of his heroes' leather pants. But "Probot" stands as prime headbanging party-rock, a fine disc to warm up the crowd before you bring out the really heavy originals by these metal gods.


Straight talk from Allen on 'Queer Eye' CD

Though "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Soundtrack: What's That Sound" features two (unremarkable) contributions from Chicago artists signed to Capitol Records -- Liz Phair and OK-Go -- the cast's hometown hero, Ted Allen, admits that he had little to do with the disc.

In his previous life as a writer for Chicago magazine, Allen was a perceptive cultural critic and a piercing wit. When Capitol offered up the Fab Five to talk about their first CD, I couldn't resist chatting music for a bit with the cast's resident gourmet.

Q. So, Ted, we're supposed to talk about this album. But did you really have anything to do with it?

A. Um, let's see -- no. Not a damn thing! But I have to say, the people who came up with the music did an amazing job, not only with the CD, but getting artists for the show itself. One of the best examples for me is that Junior Senior song ("Move Your Feet"). When I saw that on the show, I didn't even know who they were, but it's just such great pop -- it's so infectious. It plays a really crucial role in the program.


Like much of America, I'm charmed and amused by the Fab Five, and I'm proud to say they've given me some useful metrosexual tips, though I remain wary of nose-hair trimmers and dubious about the many "products" they champion. Destined to join its place in the onslaught of books and videos, "product" is exactly what this collection of backing music for the TV show is, but it has its moments.

The forgettable ones (a Chemical Brothers remix of a track by Kylie Minogue, who made a cameo on the show, and contributions from Sting and Elton John) are evenly matched with the keepers (the tune by Wildlife, a Basement Jaxx collaboration with Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays and a Fisherspooner/Billy Squier mash-up). Whether or not this compilation is of more use to you than a good exfoliant or that mini-flamethrower for torching creme brulees depends on the size of your CD collection. I forget: Do the boys say that size matters or not?

Jim DeRogatis

Q. Were you familiar with the Chicago artists on here?

A. OK-Go, the first I heard of them was that [theme] song they do for Gretchen Helfrich's show ["Odyssey" on WBEZ-FM], which I kind of like.

Did they tell you that Sting actually came in to do a remix for this thing? You were talking about how I'm sort of wide-eyed about [the show's success], and I'm just blown away at the caliber of people who were not just willing to be on the thing, but put forth effort to do it. I mean, Sting -- you don't just pick up the phone and say, "Hey, Sting!" He's got rain forests to save and women to have sex with for hours at a time.

Q. Why do you think the show connects with people to such a degree?

A. I think at its heart -- and this is why the Junior Senior song is such a great one to put into the show -- it's because it makes you feel good. With all of the negative crap going on, the show is sort of edgy and different and very, very fast and smart, but ultimately, you leave it feeling really good, with five gay guys rooting for this straight guy to win the girl or win the day.

Q. So Junior Senior is your favorite track?

A. I like the theme song by Wildlife a lot, too. Have you seen the video? You should see the making of the video, which is a half-hour show. They closed the Brooklyn Bridge, they had a helicopter camera, we had 60 cars full of extras, we had a biker and a bus full of cheerleaders. It was this hilarious production that took us 24 straight hours to shoot.

Q. But thankfully they didn't ask you to sing on that one -- as opposed to the last track, "5 Gay Men" from the show, where you crooned a little bit.

A. No, they didn't ask us to sing. But our Jai Rodriguez is coming out with an album, and it's good.

Q. Sorry, but I have to ask you to play critic: What's the worst stinker on this album?

A. Oh, you know I can't answer that question! I actually like the album.

Whenever you hear about any spin-offs from a project, I think most people approach them with a kind of gimlet eye, and you expect them to be opportunistic. Whenever something succeeds, of course they do spin-offs, because they have the opportunity to sell a lot more things. It isn't necessarily driven by artistically valid reasons. We are very fortunate that this record is good; the people who put it together made good choices. I like my favorite songs better than the other ones, but I don't think there are any stinkers --except for the last one; that one sucks!