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Pressure’s on as Love readies solo bow

Will audiences embrace ‘America's Sweatheart’? By Melinda Newman
/ Source: Billboard

A week away from her solo debut, Courtney Love is still making headlines — but not for her music.

It has been six years since her former band Hole’s last album. She subsequently has sued her former label parent, Universal Music Group, and the members of her deceased husband’s band, Nirvana.

Love has testified against major-label practices before the California Senate, disbanded Hole, made some movies, been arrested a few times, gone to rehab and, not incidentally, made her first solo album.

“America’s Sweetheart” comes out Feb. 10 on Virgin Records.

The next day, Feb. 11, Love is headed back to court: She faces two felony counts of possession of a controlled substance.

Can she be taken seriously as a musician?
The question remains whether her cult of personality has eclipsed her musical career.

“The album has the potential to do well if she can clean up and go out and promote herself and not be a freak show,” says Natalie Waliek, senior music buyer for Allston, Mass.-based Newbury Comics. (Love even refers to herself as a “freak show” on confessional album cut “Uncool.”)

“It’s beyond being a make-or-break situation for Courtney,” says Neil Strauss, music writer for the New York Times. “It has already broken, and now she has to see if she can put the pieces back together.”

Fortunately for Love, she has made the album that can revive her music career, Strauss believes.

“Between all her lawsuits, arrests and drama, I’d forgotten how talented she was as a singer and performer,” he says. “It has been a decade since her last great record, ‘Live Through This,’ but finally she has picked up where she left off.”

“There’s a great deal of curiosity about the new album,” says Jon Bream, music critic for Minneapolis’ Star Tribune. “People are clamoring for a female singer who has balls, and she certainly does.”

A real woman rockerChris Brown believes Love fills a void in that regard. “There aren’t a whole lot of women playing real rock ’n’ roll,” says the VP of marketing and operations for the 10-store, Portland, Maine-based Bull Moose Music chain.

First single “Mono” is getting a strong, though not stellar, reception at modern rock radio. This week, it stands at No. 25 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart.

Like much of the album, the song is an aggressive slab of in-your-face rock that does not stray far from Hole’s material. Notable exceptions include “Sunset Strip” — a midtempo, mainly acoustic exploration of Hollywood’s chew-’em-up-and-spit-’em-out mentality — and closing ballad “Never Gonna Be the Same.”

“I believe people absolutely care about her as an artist,” says Oedipus, program director at modern rock station WBCN Boston, where “Mono” is ranked No. 1. “Rock is more than simply the music, it’s also the image,” he says. “She’s a rebel, and the song is wonderful. She’s very talented.”

At modern outlet WNNX Atlanta, where the song is ranked No. 22, the jury is still out. “Honestly, we’re playing the record to give it the benefit of the doubt,” program director Chris Williams says. “We’ll see once the album comes out what her relevance to the format is. If the CD doesn’t really sell, that will say a lot.”

Although Love is prepping for a tour that could start as early as late February, there are no TV performances yet slated. Randy Miller, Virgin executive VP of marketing, says those may come if the single progresses up the chart.

Love’s legal woes have not precluded her ability to promote the album, Miller says. “She has had the freedom and ability to get the things done that we need done,” he says.

A contest to win a weekend in Lake Tahoe that Love also will attend will run on 30 modern rock stations the week of the album’s release.