Among some of my favorite albums are those considered lesser-than, like Sinead O’Connor’s 1992 detour into jazz/big band, Am I Not Your Girl?, Nelly Furtado’s 2003 sophomore album, Folklore, and more recently, Christina Aguilera’s Bionic (“Ahead of its time,” the singer recently told Billboard.)
Though Hole’s Celebrity Skin can’t exactly be categorized as a commercial flop, having sold over 1 million copies to become the band’s most successful effort, I do recall the album receiving a mixed reception upon its release in 1998. Chief among the criticisms leveled at Celebrity Skin was that the songs were too polished, too pop, too “radio-friendly.”
Producer Michael Beinhorn applied some layers of lacquer, but the songs aren’t stripped of emotion either, which is why, from start to end, Celebrity Skin is my favorite Hole album. While those naysayers 14 years ago had no idea, there’s a new matter of Skin-related sheen that I am not taking a shine to. Last night’s ”Makeover” episode of Glee prominently featured a cover of the title track that neatly filed away any edge to my dismay.
I assume the writers and producers picked “Celebrity Skin” because its opening line, “Oh, make me over,” offered an ostensible tie to the episode’s theme, but the rest of the lyrics only make (some) sense coming from the mouth of Courtney Love. As a regular Glee viewer and a music fan who doesn’t consider himself terribly precious when it comes to cover songs, this one is a total miss. Running “Celebrity Skin” through Glee‘s gleem machine subtracted the snarl (and snark), rendering the song toothless.
When Love sang, “It’s all so sugarless,” I doubt she imagined this kind of artificial sweetener would one day be her substitute, though at least she and co-writers Eric Erlandson and Billy Corgan banked a few bucks from the song’s use. You could say that’s Love now “selling cheap,” but I do hope some Glee fans will dig deeper and pay for Hole’s original “Skin.”
“Celebrity Skin” was indeed radio-friendly, becoming a #1 hit on the Billboard Modern Rock chart in October 1998. The song remained on top for four weeks, while also peaking at #4 on the Rock chart.
If you haven’t seen Hit So Hard, the documentary about Hole drummer Patty Schemel, it’s worth the watch. Among the revelations is how badly Beinhorn treated Schemel during the recording of Celebrity Skin, ultimately replacing her with a session drummer. The band also filmed the video for “Celebrity Skin” without her, casting a look-a-like in her place.