HOLE Celebrity Skin (Geffen)

Of course, we knew it had to be massive, but did anyone expect Courtney Love’s first post-Kurt/post-transformation-to-legitimate-actress musical outpourings to be this massive? To reproduce the sound of "Celebrity Skin", simply place your copy of Fleetwood Mac’s "Rumours" in one corner of your lounge and your (or, more realistically, somebody else’s) copy of Hole’s debut album "Pretty On The Inside" in the other, stand well back and listen to the claws and fur fly. Because "Celebrity Skin" sounds like some strange poisoned AOR/grunge amalgam (something thar runs far deeper just the ‘thanks to’ credit Stevie Nicks receives in the sleevenotes), with shiny, chiming FM-friendly melodies that seem desparate to be loved wrapped around lyrics of hate.

Half of the time, at least, this works spectacularly well, although you’ll need a few plays to acclimatise to something that sounds absolutely normal whilst being desparately strange at the same time (more so because of who’s created "Celebrity Skin", rather than what it is...for some reason Joan Jett springs to mind). Everywhere you look there are catchy, hummable choons with lyrics such as "I’m all I want to be/A walking study in demonology" or "I was punk!/Now I’m just stupid!" which Courtney sings (yes, sings, not screams!) almost with a chuckle in her voice. It can, at times, be an amazingly powerful and moving experience, especially when things get a little All About Eve folksy (only a little, though) on "Malibu" and "Nothern Star". And then sometimes it lapses into unhealthily large acreages of tedium, often, strangely, when former Massive Attack collaborator Craig Armstrong and his string section arrive. String arrangements on a Hole album? Maybe a bridge too far this time around.

What "Celebrity Skin" lacks, unfortunately, is the attack that has you staple-gunned to your seat seconds into Hole’s last album, the tragically ironic "Live Through This": sharp, Big-Star-gone-punk riffs may abound, but even at their most animated none of the twelve tracks here will grab you the way Courtney yelling her way through old classics like "Teenage Whore", "Pretty On The Inside", "Violet" or "Miss World" will. But as a "Rumours" for the post-grunge generation "Celebrity Skin" certainly fits the bill, there being more than enough dischord and disharmony within Hole in the four years since their last album to rival Fleetwood Mac at their marriage-wrecking peak. It’s certainly a good album, maybe a great album, but (hopefully) not one that will documenent a generation’s mindset in the way "Rumours" did. And it does make you wonder where, if anywhere, Hole can go next.

HOLE Pretty On The Inside (City Slang)

Ten years after its original release, Hole's debut remains an astonishing album. It mixes splatter rock attack of a ferocity unheard since The Stooges' symphony of destruction "Fun House", a rich vein of vitriolic feminist anger and experimental sound collage, all refereed by producers Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth) and Don Fleming. Songs such as the title track and "Teenage Whore" haven't been sapped of a particle of their abrasive power despite the events of the ensuing decade, Courtney Love's acid-gargling vocal howl sounding rawer than anything committed to tape since John Lennon's post-primal scream therapy work "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band". Surprisingly the most astonishing song on "Pretty On The Inside", viewed from this distance, is "Star Belly": beginning as an undisciplined cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl", it gets stabbed by garbled Dictaphone messages before being drowned by lowest-of-fi samples of Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon", a chillingly prescient foreshadowing of Love's transformation into the queen of alt-rock superstardom. Later Hole albums contaminated the brew with such foreign concepts as melody and production sheen, but, fine as its successors are, nothing compares to the bruised and bleeding hyperreality captured here. No easy way down, perhaps, but an astonishing, cataclysmic burnout of an album.