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Courtney Love

The ironically titled America's Sweetheart, Courtney Love's solo debut and her first album in more than five years (since Hole's Celebrity Skin), may be the first great rock 'n' roll record of 2004.

Sure, America's Sweetheart recycles guitar riffs right and left from the likes of Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Fleetwood Mac's Lindsay Buckingham and, yes, Nirvana. And, sure, Love can't go for more than a couple of songs without invoking in her lyrics classic punk rock with phrases such as "rise above," "smash it up" and "gabba gabba hey." But such elements in rock music ought to be part of the public domain, anyway, and are we so naïve to think that she isn't aware of what she's doing? Anyway, it's what she does with her musical stone soup that matters.

Catchy as hell, "Mono" seems to be at once a tirade against God, her fans and the abject eye of her public. At the same time, it makes a shocking revelation: "Oh God, you owe me one more song to prove to them that I'm so much better than him." Next, she sounds stalker-scary in the rip-roaring punk-but-pop tune "But Julian, I'm a Little Bit Older Than You," which allegedly is about the Strokes' singer Julian Casablancas.

Mocking self-sacrifice often is among her concerns. In "Uncool," she sings, "I don't want to die, and I don't want to live" with a desperation that is actually beautiful. Co-written with Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin, it's also an extremely affecting love song--not despite its self-consciousness, but because of it.

Love reaches deep into what previous generations called primal-scream therapy, with results as frightening as the efforts of Iggy Pop and the band Suicide, whose punk-electronic style is echoed in the minimalist keyboard riff that anchors "Life Despite God."

I can't stop listening to this album, and every song is enjoyable in one way or another. Go figure.

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