Pretty on the Inside

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Pretty on the Inside
A bright pink, heavily saturated photo of the four people. Stylized yellow lettering reads "Hole Pretty on the Inside".
Studio album by Hole
Released September 17, 1991 (1991-09-17)
Recorded March 1991 (1991-03) at Music Box Studios in Los Angeles, California
Genre Noise rock, hardcore punk[1]
Length 38:26
Label Caroline (United States)
City Slang (Europe)
Producer Kim Gordon, Don Fleming
Hole chronology
Pretty on the Inside
(1991)
Live Through This
(1994)
Singles from Pretty on the Inside
  1. "Teenage Whore"
    Released: September 23, 1991

Pretty on the Inside is the debut studio album by American alternative rock band Hole, released on September 17, 1991 in the United States on Caroline Records.[1][2] Produced by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, and Gumball frontman Don Fleming, the album was Hole's first major label release after the band's formation in 1989 by singer-songwriter Courtney Love and lead guitarist Eric Erlandson.

Sonically influenced by noise rock, hardcore punk, and no wave, the album features distorted and alternating guitar compositions, screaming vocals, and "sloppy punk ethics,"[3] a style which the band would later distance themselves from, opting for a less abrasive sound on their subsequent releases. Love's lyrics on the album are often narrative, graphic, and abstract, detailing issues of violence, self-realization, and womanhood. The record was dedicated to Rob Ritter of the Los Angeles punk rock acts The Bags and The Gun Club.[4]

Pretty on the Inside was well received by alternative music critics, garnering favorable reviews in Spin, NME, and The Village Voice. It received considerable commercial success in the United Kingdom, where the record's lead single, "Teenage Whore", entered the UK Indie Chart at number one in September 1991. It has sold over 200,000 copies in the United States[5] and gained a contemporary cult following among punk rock fans, and has been cited as a seminal influence for songwriters and musicians such as Brody Dalle and Scout Niblett. Despite its critical acclaim, frontwoman Courtney Love has, in later years, referred to the album as "unlistenable". An LP version of the album was reissued in the United States in August 2011 to celebrate its twentieth anniversary.

Background[edit]

Hole formed in 1989 in Los Angeles, California when frontwoman Courtney Love, after years of fruitless attempts at forming bands, bought her neighbor Lisa Roberts a bass and posted an advertisement in a local paper stating: "I want to start a band. My influences are Big Black, Sonic Youth, and Fleetwood Mac".[6] Eric Erlandson, along with over a dozen other musicians, answered the ad. Love later said that she knew Eric was "the one" as soon as they met, and that he had a "Thurston Moore quality about him" that she liked.[6]

Erlandson said that early in Hole's career, they were more interested in "making noise" than achieving success and before drummer Caroline Rue joined the band that they used no percussion whatsoever. It was not until Love and Erlandson heard Mudhoney's "Touch Me, I'm Sick" that they began to think about taking the band to the next level. Early on, the band was most influenced by the New York No Wave art and music scene of the 1980s, which included visual artists, such as Richard Kern, as well as scuzz rock acts, such as Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Sonic Youth, and Pussy Galore.[7] The band also featured a third guitarist in its early days, first Mike Geisbrecht and then Errol Stewart. After the band's first four shows, the original lineup disbanded and Hole recruited bassist Jill Emery in 1990.

In the documentary film Not Bad for a Girl, Love, who had been in the erotic dancing industry for years prior, said that she worked as a stripper to help support the band in its early incarnation.[8] She also cited her work as a dancer as being one of many inspirations for the songs on Pretty on the Inside: "I was blonde, wore makeup, had to support my band by dancing, and had to play this ridiculous archetype at work... so I took, you know, high heels and white pumps, and I had a wiglet—I just took that and messed with it."[8]

Recording and production[edit]

Hole had previously released two singles, "Retard Girl" on Sympathy for the Record Industry and "Dicknail" on Sub Pop. According to Love, she had initially wanted to release the album on Sympathy for the Record Industry, but was "talked into" signing on with Caroline Records.[6][9] After signing, Love sought Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon to produce the album. In January 1991, Love sent her letter, a Hello Kitty barrette, and copies of the band's early singles, mentioning that the band greatly admired Gordon's work and appreciated "the production of the SST record" (referring to Sonic Youth's EVOL or Sister).[10] Gordon agreed on the condition that her friend, Gumball frontman Don Fleming, assist.[11]

The band entered Music Box Studios with Gordon, Fleming and Holly Price in March 1991 and worked on the album for one week; the songs were recorded over a period of four days, and were mixed over the course of a further three days. During the recording sessions for the album, Love gargled whiskey and smoked cigarettes excessively to "give a raw edge to her vocals".[12]

The sessions were said to be stressful, with an anonymous band member saying that Love was "on a total power trip" the entire time, making sure she had the final say of "everything in terms of album cover design, order of musicians' credits in the liner notes, and even the spot where the price code went on the back".[6] Fleming was impressed by Love's "focus and intensity", especially while recording vocals for one song when Love "literally ripped her clothes off while she sang".[11] "Courtney was amazing," said Fleming. "She was the most gung-ho person I've ever met. She was going to make the greatest record ever - I like that attitude in the studio. Courtney was like 'Let's go, fuckers', and I loved that."[13] In a later interview, Fleming said:

Courtney was great at the time—it was before she even knew Kurt [Cobain]. She gave 180%. I've worked with some people that you've had to coax the performance out of them. With Courtney, there was no attitude. She was gonna give it all. And she did and it was really impressive to me [...] I loved the whole band; they were a lot of fun. That early lineup of Hole—I felt they were the real deal. They were Hollywood misfits—all of them. I felt it really captured what they were."[14]

Gordon said that Love "was either charming and nice or screaming at her band" but that she was "a really good singer and entertainer and front person".[11]

Composition[edit]

Music[edit]

The music of Pretty on the Inside is most often noted for its extreme abrasiveness,[15][16] and for its sophisticated use of melody buried under arrangements. The album's sonic elements are heavily influenced by Los Angeles hardcore punk as well as New York's no wave scene; many of the tracks are accompanied by overt use of feedback, experimental playing, wah pedals, and use of sampling and interpolation. Rapid sliding techniques and string muting are also heavily present on the album, as well as what Love and Erlandson describe as "Sonic Youth tunings".[17] Love's vocals range from whispers to violent screaming, often in succession with the extreme shifts in speed and volume.

It's unlistenable— that record was a calling card for rock critics and hardcorers, [saying] "This is what I do, and I'm not going to back down from it. I am announcing my persona as a cunt. Thank you very much."

Courtney Love, 2011

The album also contains multiple references to other musicians, specifically in its two noise tracks, "Sassy" and "Starbelly": the main riff to "Starbelly" is based on Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" and features analog cassette excerpts from "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac and an early recording of "Best Sunday Dress" by the Pagan Babies, one of Love's earlier bands with Kat Bjelland; "Sassy" includes snippets from an angry message left by Nymphs singer Inger Lorre on Love's answering machine, accompanied by one chord progression repeated throughout.[18][19] Love has admitted that the main riff to "Mrs. Jones" was copied verbatim from "Dark Entries" by the goth rock group Bauhaus.[20]

In a 1991 Canadian television interview, Love commented on the album's coarse musical structure. She said that since the band was from Los Angeles, the "metal capital of the US", they thought they were making a "pop record with an edge", and were surprised by people's reactions when they were told it was violent and extreme.[15] Love also said, "It was all about the expression of my experience. I was not coming from a black void; I was trying to create light... I was trying to heal."[8] In an interview with Spin magazine several years after its release, Love said that she was "posing in a lot of ways" with the album: "It was the truth, but it was also me catching up with all my hip peers who'd gone all indie on me, and who made fun of me for liking R.E.M. and The Smiths. I'd done the whole punk thing, sleeping on floors in piss and beer, and waking up with the guy with the fucking mohawk and the skateboards and the speed and the whole goddamned thing. But I hated it. I'd grown out of it by the time I was seventeen."[21] In a 1994 interview with Kurt Loder, Love admitted to having been "consciously self-conscious" when making the record due to her feeling the need to compete with her peers at the time.[7] In a 2011 interview for Hit So Hard (2011), a documentary on later Hole drummer Patty Schemel, Love referred to Pretty on the Inside as "unlistenable".[22]

Lyrics and themes[edit]

Many of the album's lyrics are narrative and diaristic in nature, and were heavily drawn from Love's personal life and experiences in her teenage and young adult years.[8][21] In a press release promoting the album, Love said: "These songs are about my own weaknesses and impurities; things about myself that I hate... paranoias, petty concerns, and pithy, pathetic things that are inside of me."[23] The songs are often lyrically abstract and describe shocking scenes of violence,[24] and, particularly, violence against women.[25] Prominent themes discussed in the lyrics include elitism, beauty and self-image, as well as the more disconcerting themes of abortion, prostitution, suicide, murder, "red lights", and self-destructiveness.[24][26] Q Magazine described the lyrics on the record as "confrontational" and "genuinely uninhibited".[27]

The Seattle publication The Stranger analyzed the lyrics to the track "Mrs. Jones", calling it a "particularly rattling sketch of what appears to be a rape scene, with Love seamlessly handling three perspectives: the ugly attacker ("Look into the bloodrot, you suicide bitch / It takes an hour with you to make me want to live"), the vengeful victim ("The abortion left an abscess / Don't ever talk to me like that again"), and the supportive narrator ("Just like a pro, she takes off her dress / And she kicks you down in her snow white pumps")."[24] The song also makes direct references to The Ballad of East and West, a poem by Rudyard Kipling, specifically with the line: "East is east and west is west, and mine was you and mine was best", which is a partial quote from the poem.

"Garbadge Man", discusses abandonment and alienation, as well as crisis of spirituality,[24] and is one of the few songs on the album to feature a verse-chorus-verse composition. The album closes with two songs that are bridged together as a single piece: "Pretty on the Inside", noted for its hostile lyrics and allusions to vanity,[8] and "Clouds", a dark and raucous cover of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now" from her 1969 album Clouds. The cover of the song features altered lyrics that appear to illustrate a suicide scene.[8]

The explicitness of the album's lyrics mandated a Parental Advisory logo in the United States, largely due to the lurid nature of the songs as well as their usage of profanity. Female-aimed curse words such as "bitch", "slut", and "whore" are prominent in the songs, though in a presumably subversive manner.[28] "I try to place [beautiful imagery] next to fucked up imagery, because that's how I view things," said Love in a 1991 interview with Everett True.[29] "I sometimes feel that no one's taken the time to write about certain things in rock, that there's a certain female point of view that's never been given space."[29] In spite of its graphic lyrics, the underlying pro-feminist slant that is found in many of the songs led some to tag the band as being part of the riot grrl movement,[30] which Love was not directly associated with.[31][32]

Packaging and artwork[edit]

An open CD insert featuring a chaotic assemblage of typed and scribbled song lyrics, accompanied by photo cutouts of Catholic art, storybook images, and women in bondage.
Interior artwork from the CD version of the album, featuring a volatile collage of images and lyrics.

The artwork for Pretty on the Inside is abstract in comparison to Hole's later album artwork. The front cover of the album features a heavily saturated pink press photo of the band amidst forest underbrush, taken by photographer Vickie Berndt. Berndt said that "Courtney wanted something striking and unusual" and Berndt was experimenting with color infrared film during the shoot, testing exposure settings with Love.[33] The photo is similar to several others taken during the same shoot, one of which was featured in a Spin article in 1991.[34]

The font design featured on the front cover was created by Pizz,[35] a graphic artist from Long Beach, who also designed album cover art for several other indie rock bands. The back side of the album features a painting by bassist Emery, depicting a topless woman looking at herself through a hand mirror. On her chest is a red heart surrounded by arrows, and below, her ribs protrude from her sides, possibly a reference to anorexia and body image issues, a major theme of the album and its successor Live Through This.[8]

The interior artwork, presented in a booklet on the CD version of the album and on the record sleeve on vinyl releases, features an assemblage of scribbled and typewritten lyrics, personal "thank you" notes, cutouts of Catholic and Renaissance artwork, as well as childlike drawings and storybook pictures juxtaposed with photos of women in bondage.[4] The collages in the album's liner notes have been described as looking like "the scrapbook of an incest victim."[24] In the liner notes, the album is dedicated to Rob Ritter of the LA punk group The Bags.[4]

Release[edit]

Rectangular flyer featuring photos of the band, a logo, and an image of a young girl with her hands covering her eyes.
Caroline Records press kit cutout promoting the album (1991).

Pretty on the Inside was released on September 17, 1991 in the United States on Caroline Records and on City Slang in Europe. The album's lead single, "Teenage Whore", was released in Europe on September 23, and entered the UK Indie Chart's Top 10 at number one on September 28, 1991, beating out "Heaven Sent An Angel" by Revolver, "Let It Slide" by Mudhoney, and "Love to Hate You" by Erasure, among others.[36][37] On The Chart Show on Channel 4, the song's title was censored with ellipsis in place of the word "whore".[36]

The single's success in the United Kingdom led the band to perform a twelve-date tour of the country supporting Mudhoney. The subsequent success of both the album, single, and tour saw Hole embark on a further three tours of the United States, Germany and Western Europe in the latter half of 1991, playing again with Mudhoney, as well as alternative rock acts Daisy Chainsaw and Therapy?. In spite of the album's popularity in the United Kingdom, it failed to chart in the United States despite extensive touring, though it was known to be outselling Nirvana's output before the band's release of Nevermind the following week.[38]

The band played their final show of the tour in San Francisco opening for The Smashing Pumpkins, which ended with Love infamously smashing her guitar headstock onstage at the end of their set after the audience failed to respond well.[39][40]

Los Angeles Times journalist David Cromelin noted in his review of the concert:

Smashing Pumpkins' singer-guitarist Billy Corgan referred to himself as "a frustrated Midwestern youth" at the Whisky on Tuesday [...] Smashing Pumpkins was preceded by smashing guitars, courtesy of Hole. The tortured, transfixing L.A. group's pairing with the headliners should have made this a bill to remember, but the audience was primed for Pumpkin and didn't take to Courtney Love's powerful howls of anguish. Hole ended its set in a tantrum, as Love ordered the band to halt and hurled her guitar to the ground. Guitarist Eric Erlandson finished things off by demolishing his instrument with a few impressive swings. Frustrated Midwestern youth, meet frustrated California youth.[39]

After the tour concluded, a music video for the track "Garbadge Man" was released, though the album's only single, "Teenage Whore", did not receive a music video. The video is fairly abstract and a reflection of Hole's no wave influence at the time, with shots of Love and other band members in a car interspersed with shots of them performing outside the window. According to Love, she tracked down original rolls of radiographic medical film from Denver, Colorado that had been used in the Vietnam war, which the music video was then shot on, giving the images an X-ray-like appearance.[41] The video was shown on MTV's 120 Minutes in 1992 during an interview with Love and Kim Gordon, and was broadcast again on the show in 1994 and 1995[42] but was never as popular as the band's later videos. For the music video, an alternate mix of the song by Gordon was used to eliminate profanity.

The album was released on CD and cassette in the United States, but received a release on vinyl LP throughout Europe by City Slang, based in Berlin, Germany. The first 3,000 pressings of the LP featured blue vinyl, while the following pressings were in standard black.[43] In June 2011, Plain Recordings, an independent American record label specializing in cult album re-issues, announced that a 180 gram vinyl re-release of Pretty on the Inside was being introduced to their catalogue; it was released on August 2, 2011.[44][45]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 2.5/5 stars[46]
Robert Christgau (3-star Honorable Mention)[47]
Melody Maker (positive)[48]
PopMatters 8/10 stars[26]
Q 3/5 stars[27]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 2/5 stars[49]
Select 4/5 stars[50]
Spin 4/5 stars[51]
The Stranger 4/4 stars
The Village Voice (positive)[52]

Pretty on the Inside was received with positive acclaim by many British and American alternative press. In a review by NME, the album was positively compared to Patti Smith's Horses, as well as the debut albums of The Ramones, Television, and New York Dolls, and was branded as being in "a class of its own",[53] while Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote in The New Yorker that "Pretty on the Inside is such a cacophony... very few people are likely to get through it once, let alone give it the repeated listenings it needs for you to discover that it's probably the most compelling album to have been released in 1991."[53]

Q called the album "loud, ugly, and deliberately shocking", awarding it three out of five stars. Spin noted in their review:

[The album] revolves around a fascination of the repulsive aspects of L.A.— superficiality, sexism, violence, and drugs. Love is the embodiment of what drives the band: the dichotomy of pretty/ugly... The pretty/ugly dynamic also comes across in Hole's music... a song like "Teenage Whore" at first comes across like a ranting noisy rage, but underneath is a surprisingly lush melody."[6]

Melody Maker columnist Sharon O'Connell said the album was "the very best bit of fucked up rock 'n' roll [I've heard] all year",[48] and it was named one of the 20 best albums of the year by Spin in December 1991.[51] Deborah Frost of The Village Voice, in her review of the album, called it "genre-defying", taking note of Love's reputation on the album as "the girl who won't shut up... She is all the things that she should not be, and she shoves it, raw, right in your face."[52] The Seattle publication The Stranger took note of the album's production work by Gordon and Fleming, stating that "despite Pretty on the Inside's reputation as an unhinged, raw-sounding debut, a great deal of professional calculation went into putting this record together."[24] They also applauded Love's lyrics, and said the album "judiciously toes the line between the evasively obtuse and overtly obscene."[24]

In 1995, Alternative Press magazine ranked the album at #74 in their "Top 99 Of '85-'95" list, noting that "Love works in extremes and wears that scarlet letter when she feels like it, and when she doesn't she rips it off, never neglecting melody and language as the real medium for her message."[54] In 2009 PopMatters called it an album with "bold musical splendour on display" that "[leaves one feeling] nothing short of gobsmacked."[26]

In a 1994 article, Rolling Stone journalist David Fricke called the album "gloriously assaultive" and "a classic of sex-mad self-laceration, hypershred guitars and full-moon bawling [...] in particular the spectacular goring of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now" (aka "Clouds") at the end of the record. You don't really know the solitary despair at the core of that song until you've heard Love's embittered delivery of the last two lines — "It's life's illusions I recall / I really don't know life at all" — over guitarist Eric Erlandson's fading squall."[55]

Legacy[edit]

Pretty on the Inside has had an influence on multiple alternative rock acts, being specifically mentioned by Spinnerette frontwoman Brody Dalle in an interview as a seminal album in the development of her music.[56] British rock band Nine Black Alps also noted the album as a major influence on their third release, Locked Out from the Inside (2009),[57] and indie singer-songwriter Scout Niblett cited it as a major influence on her:[58] "For me, the thing that I loved about them and her [Courtney Love] was the anger, and aggressiveness, along with the tender side," said Niblett. "That was something I hadn’t seen before in a woman playing music. That was hugely influential and really inspiring. Women up ’til then were kind of one-dimensional, twee, sweet, ethereal, and that annoys the shit out of me."[59]

Contemporarily, the album has also gained a cult following among rock and punk music fans.[1][60]

The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock called the album a "surly milkshake of broken rock shards... from the artistic misspellings of song titles to the lyric collage on the inner sleeve and the abrasive, abstract guitar noises on the songs, Pretty on the Inside reveals the band's fascination with the New York no wave art and music scene of the '80s."[61] According to Billboard, the album had sold 27,000 copies by 1994,[62] when the band released their wildly popular follow-up album, Live Through This.

In more recent years, frontwoman Love stated that the album contains "nothing melodic".[63] In a 2011 interview for Hit So Hard (2011), a documentary on later Hole drummer Patty Schemel, Love referred to Pretty on the Inside as "unlistenable",[22] going on to say: "That record was a calling card for rock critics and hardcorers, [saying] 'This is what I do, and I am not going to back down from it. I am announcing my persona as a cunt. Thank you very much.'"[64]

Nonetheless, the title track of the album was performed regularly at Hole concerts between 1993 and 1999, and Love opened shows with the song during Hole's 2010 tour.[65]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Teenage Whore"   Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, Jill Emery, Caroline Rue Kim Gordon, Don Fleming (co.) 2:57
2. "Babydoll"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue Gordon, Fleming 4:59
3. "Garbadge Man"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue Gordon, Fleming 3:19
4. "Sassy"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue Gordon, Fleming 1:43
5. "Good Sister/Bad Sister"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue Gordon, Fleming 5:47
6. "Mrs. Jones"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue Gordon, Fleming 5:25
7. "Berry"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue Gordon, Fleming 2:46
8. "Loaded"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue Gordon, Fleming 4:19
9. "Starbelly"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue[3] Gordon, Fleming 1:46
10. "Pretty on the Inside"   Love, Erlandson, Emery, Rue Gordon, Fleming 1:27
11. "Clouds[2]"   Joni Mitchell (additional lyrics by Courtney Love) Gordon, Fleming 3:58
Total length:
38:26

Personnel[edit]

All personnel credits adapted from the album's liner notes.[35]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1991) Peak
position
UK Albums Chart 59

Singles[edit]

Year Single Peak positions
UK Indie
[36]
1991 "Teenage Whore" 1

Notes[edit]

  • 1. Despite some online listings dating the album's release as Friday, August 23, 1991, reliable sources list Pretty on the Inside's release date as September 17, 1991 in North America. European release dates generally list July 1, 1991.
  • 2. The original U.S. CD pressing of the album merges "Pretty on the Inside" and "Clouds" as a single track.
  • 3. "Starbelly" features a re-appropriated cover of "Cinnamon Girl" by Neil Young, as well as sampling of "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac, and "Best Sunday Dress" by Pagan Babies.

References[edit]

References
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Bibliography

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