Live Through This
|Live Through This|
|Studio album by Hole|
|Released||April 12, 1994|
|Recorded||October 8–30, 1993 at Triclops Sound Studios in Marietta, Georgia|
|Genre||Alternative rock, punk, grunge|
|Label||DGC, City Slang|
|Producer||Paul Q. Kolderie, Sean Slade|
|Singles from Live Through This|
Live Through This is the second studio album by American alternative rock band Hole. It was released by DGC Records on April 12, 1994, just four days after frontwoman Courtney Love's husband, Kurt Cobain, was found dead in their home. It was Hole's only album to feature bassist Kristen Pfaff before her death in June 1994. Recorded in October 1993, the album marked a divergence from the band's unpolished hardcore aesthetics to more refined melodics and song structure, and features production by Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, with mixing by Scott Litt and J Mascis. The album's lyrics and packaging reflect Love's preoccupation with beauty, and its songs contain repeated motifs of milk, motherhood, anti-elitism, and violence against women.
The album met near-unanimous critical acclaim upon release, earning top-100 chart spots in seven countries and going multi-platinum. It has been considered a contemporary classic of alternative rock, and was included in Rolling Stone 's list of "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The album was also named the 84th greatest album of all time in a list produced by NME magazine in 2013. As of 2010, it has sold over 1.6 million copies in the United States.
Hole released its debut studio album, Pretty on the Inside, in 1991 and despite moderate sales, the album was a critical success among English and American press. In March 1992, following the tour to support the album's release, two members of Hole— drummer Caroline Rue and bassist Jill Emery— left the band due to artistic differences. In April 1992, vocalist Courtney Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson arranged auditions for a drummer at the Jabberjaw in Los Angeles, California and recruited drummer Patty Schemel. Love, Erlandson and Schemel then relocated to Carnation, Washington to a house owned by Love and her husband Kurt Cobain and began rehearsing and writing material for a second album. "We had been going more pop, less journal-entry noise stuff," said Erlandson. "[At the time] I was very competitive with Kurt [Cobain] because I wanted more melody," Love had stated. "But I already wanted that before [we wrote] Live Through This."
Originally signed to Caroline Records in the United States and City Slang in Europe, Hole began record deal negotiations with Geffen Records in early 1992. In February 1992, the band signed with DGC Records, a subsidiary of Geffen, with "an advance of a million dollars and a royalty rate considerably higher than Nirvana's." The final deal reached was a seven-album deal, reported to be over $3 million.
On November 8, 1992, the band recorded "Beautiful Son," "20 Years in the Dakota" and "Old Age" during a recording session at Word of Mouth Recording in Seattle with producer Jack Endino. The three-song session was later released as Hole's fourth single in April 1993 on City Slang. On January 21, 1993, Love and Schemel recorded five demo songs at BMG Ariola Ltda. in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Produced by Craig Montgomery, the session was originally a demo session for Nirvana, who were recording material for their upcoming studio album, In Utero (1993). During breaks in Nirvana's session, Love and Schemel recorded a number of songs later featured on Live Through This, including "Miss World," "She Walks on Me," "I Think That I Would Die" and "Softer, Softest." The band relocated back to Los Angeles where they recruited former Janitor Joe bassist Kristen Pfaff in early 1993; Pfaff was also an accomplished cellist and music student. Erlandson said of Pfaff's membership: "That's when we took off, all of a sudden we became a real band." After a brief tour of the United Kingdom in the summer of 1993, the band sent a series of demos to the record label. "When we got the Live Through This demos, I realized very quickly that Hole had gotten a new rhythm section," said producer Sean Slade. "It was much more musical."
The recording sessions for Live Through This began on October 8, 1993 at Triclops Sound Studios in Marietta, Georgia. The studio was booked at the recommendation of The Smashing Pumpkins, who had recorded their second studio album, Siamese Dream (1993) there. The assigned producers were Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade. The first week of recording was spent recording basic tracks, including drums, bass, scratch guitars, and scratch vocals. After basic tracks were completed, Love's husband, Kurt Cobain, joined the band in-studio before Nirvana were set to tour to promote In Utero. Cobain was presented with the basic tracks and the band invited Cobain to sing on a few unfinished numbers. Cobain initially refused, due to being unfamiliar with the material. When Cobain asked, "how can I sing on it if I haven't heard it?," Love answered by encouraging him to "just sing off the top of [his] head." Cobain is known to have provided backing vocals to "Asking for It" and "Softer, Softest," however Kolderie has said Cobain "sang on about five or so [tracks in total], probably "Violet", "Miss World" and "Doll Parts, I can't remember any of the others." After taking a break for dinner, the session devolved into a "formless jam" with Cobain on drums, Love and Erlandson on guitars and producer Sean Slade on bass.
According to Patty Schemel, during the sessions an employee at Triclops Sound Studios had "an abundance of crystal meth." Schemel, her brother Larry Schemel and bassist Kristen Pfaff would get high during the recording. "Miss World" was one of the songs Schemel and Pfaff recorded while high and Schemel has said "that song was recorded a bit altered." Producer Sean Slade recalled the studio sessions, stating that the basic tracks had been completed within five days, and also recalled that Pfaff's bass lines were completed on the basic tracks: "This has never happened on an album that we've done in all these years — every single bass track on Live Through This was from the basic tracks. There was no bass overdubs because there was no need to because they were perfect." Love completed between ten to twelve tracks of vocals for each song, which were then arranged by Slade and Kolderie. The band finished recording on October 31, with production and mixing lasted an additional nineteen days. The album was mixed chiefly by Scott Litt in Los Angeles and Seattle, although J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. mixed the track "Gutless" in New York City.
Live Through This marked a departure from the band's noise rock roots toward a more radio-friendly rock format. Love had sought a more mellow sound for Live Through This, stating: "I want this record to be shocking to the people who don't think we have a soft edge, and at the same time, [to know] that we haven't lost our very, very hard edge." The resulting music was starkly less aggressive than the band's former work, blending more structured melodies and smoother arrangements with heavy guitar riffs.
Consequently, Live Through This featured a mixture of songwriting techniques, including use of power chords as well as arpeggios, and occasional use of keyboards. Musically, the album's content ranged from heavier rock tracks such as "Plump" and "Violet" (noted to by Rolling Stone for its "startling gunshot-guitar chorus") to slower and more mellow rock ballads, such as "Doll Parts" and "Softer, Softest", which featured the use of twelve-string electro-acoustic guitars and more stripped-down progressions and strumming.
A great deal of the songs on the album were written over a two year period by Love, Erlandson, and Schemel, in both Los Angeles as well as in a makeshift studio Love had set up at her and Cobain's secluded home in Carnation, Washington. Love also stated that "half the fucking songs were written in the studio." According to Love, the songwriting process for the album was "really easy": "We started at [defunct L.A. punk club] Jabberjaw. I wrote "Violet" there. Then we moved to Seattle in the middle of that. "Miss World" was written in Seattle, if I remember correctly... We had this great rehearsal space [in Seattle]: It was just perfect, up on Capitol Hill, near the Urban Outfitters. Everyone got really close. There was just a great flow." Love also stated that she had been listening to The Breeders, Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Joy Division while recording the album, and that their work had acted as primary influences on her at the time.
Lyrics and themes
Lyrically, the album was markedly less frenetic than Pretty on the Inside, and reflects Love's tumultuous life between 1991 and 1994. The lyrics deal with themes of motherhood, depression, body image, child abuse, and elitism, and includes recurring motifs of milk, pregnancy, and suicide.
from Live Through This—the song became the album's lead single and is one of the band's signature songs.
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The album's aggressive opening track, "Violet", was reportedly inspired by Love's relationship with Billy Corgan, while songs like "Plump", "Miss World", and "I Think That I Would Die" contain the repeated themes of motherhood and post-partum depression. "I Think That I Would Die" makes specific references to the custody battle which Love and husband Cobain had endured over their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, in 1992, and featured co-writing by Love's friend and former bandmate Kat Bjelland; according to Love, the line "She says, 'I am not a feminist'" in the song was directly quoted from a Julia Roberts interview that she had read."Asking for It" was inspired by an occurrence at a 1991 concert when Hole was touring with Mudhoney, in which Love was assaulted and had her clothes ripped off of her while crowdsurfing, leaving her entirely naked, and was written entirely during the album's recording sessions. "Doll Parts", the album's most successful single, was written by Love in music executive Joyce Linehan's apartment in Boston, Massachusetts in 1992, and concerned Love's insecurity of Cobain's romantic interest in her.
Love also drew on literary influences while writing the album's lyrics; the phrase "live through this" in "Asking For It", which later became the album title, is derived from a quote in Gone with the Wind, and the phrase "kill me pills" is a direct reference to the poet Anne Sexton, who, after overdosing on barbiturates and pentobarbital called the drugs "kill me pills." The refrain in "Plump" in which Love sings, "I'm eating you. I'm overfed" also bears similarity to a line from Sexton's poem "The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator", which reads: "They are eating each other. They are overfed."
A song entitled "Rock Star" was originally slated to close the album, but a last-minute decision was made to replace the track with "Olympia." Since the artwork had already been printed, however, the title of "Rock Star" remained and was also used for further releases. The track appears to criticize the riot grrrl music scene in the Pacific Northwest, which Love was associated but not involved with. Alternate mixes of the song that later were released as b-sides included even more satirical lyrics, such as:
Well, I went to school in Olympia, and everyone's the same
And what do you do with a revolution?
You just forget your name
Following the album's release in the wake of Kurt Cobain's death, rumors began wildly circulating about the album's lyrical content and songwriting, with many people alleging that Cobain had written the album, not Courtney Love. In response to the allegations, drummer Patty Schemel said: "There is that myth that Kurt wrote a lot of our songs— it's not true. Eric [Erlandson] and Courtney wrote Live Through This." Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross conducted interviews with everyone associated with the record and found that all parties agreed that Love and Erlandson wrote the songs.
Although these rumors circulated for years to follow, much of the content on Live Through This had been written and performed during Hole's Pretty on the Inside tour. Both "Violet" and "Doll Parts", two of the album's most notable songs, had been performed as early as 1991 at various concerts, and presumably been written in 1990 or '91, when Love and Cobain were acquaintances. The first studio recordings of the songs took place during a BBC Radio broadcast for John Peel in 1991, in between US and European tours to promote Pretty on the Inside; these recordings would later appear on the group's 1995 EP Ask for It. Early versions of "Softer, Softest", another one of the singles from Live Through This, were also performed during the tour. "Violet", "Doll Parts", and "Softer, Softest" were all performed in the same set at during a December 1991 concert at the U.L.U. in London, and "Violet" was performed at Exeter several days later at a concert with Daisy Chainsaw and Therapy?. The songs were individually performed at various concerts in Paris, Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, and Germany throughout the 1991 tours along with songs from Pretty on the Inside.
Several magazine publications also mentioned the rumors regarding the writing credits, and in a 2006 Time magazine piece, it was noted that "[the rumors] started immediately that it was Cobain, not his wife, Courtney Love, who wrote the majority of these churningly catchy songs. Forget that there's no proof, that their marriage was collaborative and that it's a nasty thing to say, Live Through This is clearly a woman's work [and is] far more swaggering than any album any grunge man ever came up with. When Love sings, "I went to school in Olympia / Where everyone's the same," it's obvious she thinks she's not, and that she's right."
Love made several responses to the rumors, first in 1998: "All this time I have never addressed this. But here I am finally saying for the very first time that Kurt did not [write] Live Through This. I mean for fuck's sake, his skills were much better than mine at the time - the songs would have been much better. That's the first thing." Love later addressed the issue, stating: "I wanted to be better than Kurt. I was really competing with Kurt. And that's why it always offends me when people would say, "Oh, he wrote Live Through This." I'd be proud as hell to say that he wrote something on it, but I wouldn't let him. It was too Yoko [Ono] for me. It's like, "No fucking way, man! I've got a good band, I don't fucking need your help."
Although the band members denied Cobain's involvement in the songwriting, they have openly stated that Cobain was briefly in the studio and performed uncredited backup vocals with Kristen Pfaff on two of the tracks— "Asking for It", and "Softer, Softest". The album's liner notes credit Hole as the sole writers of the album, except for on two songs: "I Think That I Would Die", co-written by Kat Bjelland, as well as the band's cover of "Credit in the Straight World". The liner notes read: "all songs [were] written by Hole except "I Think That I Would Die", written by Hole and K. Bjelland [. . .] "Credit in the Straight World" written by Stuart Moxham."
Kurt sang backing vocals on two songs. He wrote one B-side for Hole ("Old Age"), uncredited. And that was it. It would be just as accurate – and misleading – to say that Courtney Love wrote most of Nirvana's third album, In Utero: you can certainly see her influence in Kurt's lyrics. Before the pair met, it was often guesswork as to his intentions. Afterwards, his lyrics were far more direct.
Packaging and artwork
Model Leilani Bishop is shown on the cover of the album, shot by photographer Ellen von Unwerth, dressed in beauty pageant attire with a tiara and a bouquet of flowers, with mascara running down her eyes in tears of joy. Courtney Love stated in an interview that she "wanted to capture the look on a woman's face as she's being crowned... this sort of ecstatic, blue eyeliner running, kind of 'I am, I am—I won! I have hemorrhoid cream under my eyes and adhesive tape on my butt, and I had to scratch and claw and fuck my way up, but I won Miss Congeniality!'" The band logo introduced on the front cover of the album is thought to be modeled after the '90s Mattel Barbie logo. The crown comes from the collection of Connie Parente, a popular Los Angeles based jewelry collector.
The back cover of the album features a family photo of a young Courtney Love during her childhood in Marcola, Oregon, with the individual track listings appearing to the right, printed on embossing tape.
When released on April 12, 1994, Live Through This debuted on the charts at number 52, never hitting the Top 40 in the U.S. In December 1994, the record went gold, having sold a total of 500,000 copies, going platinum six months later for having sold one million copies. To date, the album has sold more than 1.6 million copies in the United States and has well over 2 million worldwide. It has also achieved platinum status in Canada and Australia.
The album received unanimous critical acclaim, and was regarded as Hole's greatest album, as well as one of the greatest rock albums of the 1990s. Critics praised it for combining the raw energy of the band's previous album, Pretty on the Inside, with a pop rock sound that would later characterize the band's next album, Celebrity Skin.
The album is dedicated to the memory of Joe Cole, a roadie for Black Flag and the Rollins Band who was shot to death in December 1991 after attending a Hole show at the Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood. According to BMI's website, most of the songs credited officially to Hole were written just by Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson. "Doll Parts" was officially written only by Love and "I Think That I Would Die" was written by Erlandson, Love and Kat Bjelland. "Credit in the Straight World" is a Young Marble Giants cover.
Bassist Kristen Pfaff had decided to quit the band by the time of Cobain's death in April, 1994. In June 1994, she was found dead by her friend Paul Erickson from an apparent heroin overdose. Two months after Kristen's death, Hole began an extensive tour, with Melissa Auf der Maur replacing her on bass.
Four singles were released from the album and three promotional videos were shot, for "Miss World" (still with Kristen Pfaff), "Doll Parts" (with L7's bassist Jennifer Finch replacing her) and "Violet" (already with Melissa Auf der Maur). "Softer, Softest" was also released as a single, and Hole's performance of this song at their MTV Unplugged session was used as a promotional video.
Live Through This was praised unanimously by music critics and rock periodicals. Rolling Stone said, "Love delivers punk not only as insinuating as Nirvana's but as corrosive as the Sex Pistols'. More significantly, Live Through This may be the most potent blast of female insurgency ever committed to tape", while Entertainment Weekly gave the album a B+ rating, saying, "What Live Through This makes perfectly clear, though, is that Love is a greater star. She has charisma and attitude to burn, and she knows it." NME called the album "a personal but secretive thrash-pop opera of urban nihilism and passionate dumbthinks", and Melody Maker called it "the high watermark of the genre that survived the crass label of `foxcore'..."
Robert Christgau awarded Live Through This an A rating, noting its less caustic sound but praising Love's songwriting: "Punk aesthetic or no punk aesthetic, Courtney Love's songs wouldn't be compromised and might be deepened by steeper momentum and more articulate guitar noise. But they prevail anyway. Their focus is sexual exploitation, and not just by the media, evil straights, and male predators of every cultural orientation. She's also exploited by Courtney Love, and not only does she know it, she thinks about it."
Musician Magazine said, "[Kurt] Cobain's much-discussed, little heard other half finally gets the chance to escape gossip-column purgatory and succeeds with flying colors... Courtney Love's foul, funny eloquence...cuts through all the bullshit with a mighty flourish." This sentiment was reassessed in a 2008 BBC review of the album, which stated, "In 1994 and the years that followed, tragedy and controversy seemed to overshadow everything Courtney Love touched. Thankfully, with every year that passes, it becomes easier to put the record's emotional baggage to one side and appraise it on the strength of its songs."
Spin perhaps gave the album its greatest praise, awarding it a rare 10/10 rating and naming it the #1 album of the year on their "20 Best Albums of 1994" list, noting, "Love rode her band's gargantuan riffs through a shy loner's air-guitar fantasy: rock stardom as revenge upon the entire human race."
The album's prolificness has been recognized in more recent years as well— it was ranked number 466 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and was included in TIME magazine's All-TIME 100 Albums list, as well as the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. John Peel also listed it among his top twenty favorite albums of all time in 1997. In May 2014, Loudwire placed Live Through This at number seven on its "10 Best Hard Rock Albums of 1994" list. The album was also ranked at number 15 in Guitar World magazine's "Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994" list.
References in pop culture
- In the Bernardo Bertolucci film Stealing Beauty (1996), Liv Tyler's character dances and sings along to "Rock Star" in her bedroom.
- The album cover is shown inside of Mena Suvari's locker in The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999).
- "Doll Parts" is played by Ellen Page and Jason Bateman in the film Juno (2007).
- The 2009 film Jennifer's Body was named after the song on the album; the film also features "Violet" during its end credits.
- Author Debra Gwartney's book, Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, was named after the album, after Gwartney had bought it for her daughters one Christmas.
- Music biographer Everett True named his book after the album— Live Through This: American Rock Music in the Nineties.
- "Violet" is played on the radio by Kristen Wiig in a scene from the 2011 blockbuster comedy film Bridesmaids.
- Continuing a trend of naming arcs after popular rock tracks, lines and albums, the first arc of the series Angel and Faith is entitled "Live Through This".
- An Horse references both Hole and Live Through This in their song "Camp Out," the first track on their debut album Rearrange Beds.
|1.||"Violet"||Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson||3:24|
|2.||"Miss World"||Love, Erlandson||3:00|
|4.||"Asking for It"||Love, Erlandson||3:29|
|5.||"Jennifer's Body"||Love, Erlandson||3:42|
|7.||"Credit in the Straight World"||Stuart Moxham||3:11|
|8.||"Softer, Softest"||Love, Erlandson||3:28|
|9.||"She Walks on Me"||Love, Erlandson||3:24|
|10.||"I Think That I Would Die"||Love, Erlandson, Kat Bjelland||3:36|
|12.||"Rock Star"||Love, Erlandson||2:42|
All personnel credits adapted from the liner notes except where noted.
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