Live Through This
As the coverage of Kurt Cobain's death has so aptly proven, rock critics have never been embarrassed to chip away at the tenuous barriers that musicians erect between their art and their lives. It's a nasty habit, because it implies that rock musicians, unlike other artists, can't -- indeed shouldn't -- distance themselves from their work.
Still, the impulse is difficult to avoid, especially in the case of Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, whose band Hole released its second album, Live Through This, just days after Cobain killed himself. Much coverage of Live Through This has been less reviews than crass archaeology, digging through the record for clues to the couple's emotional state in their last months together. And that's dumb, because Love is way too savvy to reveal anything she doesn't want us to know, and because Live Through This is a powerful album that's worth far more as rock and roll than as a macabre footnote to Cobain's death.
Love's strength as a lyricist has always been her ability to write in voices other than her own. Still, critics point fingers at songs such as "Doll Parts," in which Love bellows "Someday you will ache like I ache," without acknowledging the line she mutters before it: "I fake it so real I am beyond fake." It's an important aside, reflecting as it does Love's awareness of just how much (or little) of herself she's revealing.
It's Love's constant need to complicate her relationship to what she's singing that gives Live Through This its uncanny power. Sure, it's possible to tie the vagaries of Love's private life to her songs -- but that would only serve to bog down their brutal efficiency with loads of tabloid muck.
-- Ross Grady
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This is proof that beauty lies in truth, not cosmetics. Because Spirits is a beautiful album, and yet it's so stark, so filled with resignation, that at times it's difficult to listen to.
Spirits is Scott-Heron's first new recording since 1982's dismal Moving Targets, after which the proto-rapper/jazz stylist/street poet more or less disappeared. He resurfaces lucidly here with one dramatic justification: the lead cut, "Message to the Messengers." Over a throbbing bassline and ominous vocal percussion, the man some credit with fathering rap delivers stern advice to the rappers he's been known to hold in disdain. The point being: look to your history, don't demean your women and don't terrorize your elderly. "If you're gonna be speaking for a whole generation, and you know enough to handle their educations, be sure you know the real deal about past situations." The song comes to a finish behind a chant of "Keep the Nerve."
Which Scott-Heron evidently has, frayed though it may be. The remainder of the album is often-exquisite jazz funk. The three-part "The Other Side" suite spells it out in a lonely monologue that builds into a reprise of the 20-year-old "Home Is Where the Hatred Is." It's an ugly place that Scott-Heron is reporting on, but as he's done in his best work, he reports without blinking.
-- Brad Tyer