Courtney Love

First things first: Despite what you might have surmised via pre-release media hype and the odd shred of actual fact, America's Sweetheart is not this year's Liz Phair. For starters, the sad on Courtney Love's first official solo album isn't as sad as Phair's, and the funny isn't as funny, so Sweetheart's emotional vertigo simply feels less lifelike than Phair's. Second, discounting their estimable market command (and their real creative gifts), producer/songwriters Linda Perry, Matt Serletic and Bernie Taupin (of all people) aren't the Matrix, so what doesn't feel lifelike here doesn't stick in your head. Finally, there's the fact that Phair still has a voice, whereas Love sounds like she's been gargling lava since Hole broke up.

But if it's another piece of introspection from a former indie-culture queen struggling to make sense of her suffocating celebrity skin you're after, Sweetheart offers plenty to dig into. In "Sunset Strip," a shopworn title that's actually served by an easy-riding El Lay groove, Love sits on top of the Hollywood sign and watches "the girls get off the bus," the ones not yet drowning in "bad food, bad sex, bad TV, Internet." In the nasty grunge throwback "All the Drugs," she admits that all her money doesn't feel as good as allowing the devil to drive her car drunk. The genuinely witty "Zeplin Song" finds her sneering at the young garage-rockers misinterpreting her late husband's legacy all the way to their own destruction. In the ragged slow jam "Never Gonna Be the Same," C. Lo's self-obsession reaches its logical apex when she moans, "If there's a God, it's me now, baby," over pretty hair-metal arpeggios. It's the sound of an exile beyond guyville, out where dreams go to die.

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Mikael Wood

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