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Celebrity Skin is the third studio album by American alternative rock band Hole, released worldwide on September 8, 1998 on Geffen Records and one day later in the United States on DGC Records. It was the last album released by the band before their dissolution in 2002. Hole intended the record to diverge significantly from their previous noise and grunge-influenced sound as featured on Pretty on the Inside (1991) and Live Through This (1994). The band hired producer Michael Beinhorn to record Celebrity Skin over a nine-month period that included sessions in California, New York and the United Kingdom. It was the band's only studio release to feature bassist Melissa Auf der Maur. Drummer Patty Schemel played the demos for the album, but was replaced by session drummer Deen Castronovo at the suggestion of producer Beinhorn. This issue created a rift between Schemel and the band, resulting in her dropping out of the tour and parting ways with the group.

Celebrity Skin
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 8, 1998 (1998-09-08)
RecordedApril 1997 – February 1998
ProducerMichael Beinhorn
Hole chronology
My Body, the Hand Grenade
Celebrity Skin
Nobody's Daughter
Singles from Celebrity Skin
  1. "Celebrity Skin"
    Released: September 1, 1998
  2. "Malibu"
    Released: December 29, 1998
  3. "Awful"
    Released: April 27, 1999

The band sought to use Los Angeles and the state of California as a unifying theme, and began writing what they conceived as a "California album" in 1997. Unlike Hole's previous releases, the final songs on Celebrity Skin featured instrumental contributions from several musicians outside the band, primarily Billy Corgan, who co-wrote the musical arrangements on five songs. Auf der Maur's former bandmate Jordon Zadorozny, as well as Go-Go's guitarist Charlotte Caffey, also contributed to the composition of one track. Frontwoman Courtney Love, who wrote all of the lyrics, named the album and its title track after a poem she had written which was heavily influenced by T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland".[2]

Celebrity Skin was Hole's most commercially successful album. To date, it has sold over 1,400,000 copies in the United States alone, has been certified as platinum in Australia, Canada and the United States and garnered Hole a number one hit single on the Modern Rock Tracks chart with the title track, "Celebrity Skin". Critical reaction to the album was very positive and the album was listed on a number of publications' year-end lists in 1998. The album was named the 265th greatest album of all time by a 2013 poll by NME magazine and was featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[3]



Background and conceptEdit

In September 1995, Hole completed the final leg of their year-long tour in promotion for their second studio album, Live Through This (1994).[4] During the hiatus that followed, the members of Hole began working on individual projects. Frontwoman Courtney Love was cast as Althea Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt alongside Woody Harrelson,[5] lead guitarist Eric Erlandson collaborated with Rodney Bingenheimer and Thurston Moore in a short-lived project Rodney & the Tube Tops,[6] bassist Melissa Auf der Maur recorded Ric Ocasek's album Troublizing (1997),[7] and drummer Patty Schemel was a guest musician with The Lemonheads on the tribute album Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks.[8]

Following Love's promotion of The People vs. Larry Flynt, the band reunited to write new material for Celebrity Skin. According to Love, the embryonic versions of the songs "weren't very good" and "not written well."[9] However, the songs developed following the band's relocation to several parts of the United States, including Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans.[10][11] During their time in New Orleans, the band recorded a number of demos, including an early version of "Awful" and songs which later developed into "Dying" and "Hit So Hard".[11]

At the time, Love had grown frustrated as she felt the songs were not coalescing.[12] Erlandson later said he felt that "everything was falling apart...  Making that record was insane. There were obstacles at each step of the way, nothing was smooth and easy."[12] Because of this perceived lack of direction, Love decided to use California as a unifying theme to begin writing around: "Let’s tie this together with a concept, even if it’s fake," she recalled, "for directional purposes."[12] Specifically, Love sought to interpret California as "a metaphor for the American dream."[12]

Recording and compositionEdit

Billy Corgan, Love's friend and former boyfriend, helped write five songs on the record

The band entered Conway Recording Studios[13] in Los Angeles in April 1997 to begin the recording sessions of the album.[14] The original plan was to have Billy Corgan as executive producer, who was a second choice after Brian Eno,[14] however, Corgan did not initially participate in, or contribute to the recording process. Michael Beinhorn was hired as head of production instead. Recording sessions for the album were spread out over the course of eight to nine months in various locations. The majority of the album was recorded at Conway Recording Studios, however, additional recording was done at Record Plant West in Los Angeles and Olympic Studios in London, United Kingdom.[13] The final recording sessions were completed at Quad Studios in early 1998. These sessions were also video-taped by a friend of the band, as noted in an October 1998 article in Spin magazine.[15] Auf der Maur characterized the sessions as being based around Love's busy schedule at the time: "It was her Hollywood phase, so she’d be chain-smoking Marlboro lights and then going to the beach at 7AM with a personal trainer and auditioning. She’d just done [The People vs.] Larry Flynt and we all went to the premiere for it. It was a very sensitive situation."[16]

Love played a Fender Vista Venus, a guitar she co-designed, on the album

According to Love, her vision for the album was to "deconstruct the California Sound" in the L.A. tradition of bands like The Doors, The Beach Boys and The Byrds,[11] but she was struggling with the composition of the record and felt like she was "in a rut."[11] After sending early recordings of the songs to Billy Corgan, Corgan joined the band in the studio for a total of twelve days.[11] Love compared Corgan's presence in the studio to "a math teacher who wouldn't give you the answers but was making you solve the problems yourself",[11] and stated that he had her study key changes as well as melodies and phrasing from songs by Frank Sinatra and The Beatles:[11]

What [Billy's] great at for me— what he did for me has nothing to do with Eric and Melissa. It has to do with me. I was in a rut, I could not even get out of bed. I didn't want to make this record, I didn't want do anything. I was dull, my blade was not sharp, and he's probably one of the only people on the planet that can challenge me. My craft was at this place and Eric and Melissa and Patty couldn't help me; they all have brilliance and craft, but because I'm in a band within a family context with them, they weren't outsiders enough to really just help me.[11]

Of the album's twelve tracks, Corgan shares instrumental songwriting credits on five.[17] In addition to Corgan, Auf der Maur's former Tinker bandmate, Jordon Zadorozny, and Go-Go's guitarist Charlotte Caffey, helped co-compose the track "Reasons to be Beautiful."[18]

A wide variety of guitars, effect pedals and equipment were used during the recording of Celebrity Skin. Love used Fender tube amplifiers, Matchless amps, Ampeg amps and a Randall Commander that belonged to Love's late husband Kurt Cobain.[19] Love's primary guitars during the sessions were her custom Fender Vista Venus and a Chet Atkins Gretsch.[19] Erlandson's guitar set-up was much more complex, using numerous guitars through different effects in a set-up he arranged with Beinhorn. He used three of his Veleno guitars that were also used to record Live Through This, a 1968 Fender Telecaster and "numerous other guitars".[19] Each signal from each guitar was split to two separate channels. One channel included a Tech 21 SansAmp, a collection of vintage analog synthesizers, including a Serge modular system, an ARP 2600 and a Moog modular system with a Boda frequency shifter. The other side included a Watkins Dominator, which "provided tons of low end",[19] and generators that were later used during the production process.

Drum tracksEdit

Patty Schemel only played the album's demos and was replaced with session drummer Deen Castronovo. Initially, Love blamed Schemel's drug addiction as the cause of her absence,[20] however, Schemel insisted it was due to "musical differences". The differences cited by Schemel were between her and Beinhorn. She claimed that Beinhorn was "totally psyching [her] out in the studio" and after a meeting with the band, Beinhorn brought in session drummer Deen Castronovo, to which she felt "betrayed by the band".[21]

According to Chris Whitemeyer, a sound technician working on the record, Beinhorn would request take after take of Schemel's drum parts, and would dim the volume in the sound booth and read the newspaper while she played.[22] Whitemeyer stated that Schemel was drumming in the studio eight hours a day for over two weeks,[22] and that Beinhorn "wanted Patty to give up". After Schemel completed over two weeks of recording, Beinhorn brought Love into the studio and had her listen to loops of Schemel's "weakest playing,"[22] and then suggested Castronovo as an alternative. Whitemeyer also stated that Castronovo had been asked by Beinhorn to enter the studio before Love or any of the other band members heard Schemel's drum tracks, and that Beinhorn "had it all planned out" early on.[22]

The event resulted in Schemel leaving the studio and requesting a settlement and breaking off ties with the band. Several months later, Schemel participated in the promotional photo shoot for the album, but refused to tour with the band. In 2002, Love admitted in an interview with Carrie Fisher to having Schemel replaced on the album:

Patty, who's been my drummer for years and years and years, she had like a two-year living-in-a-tent crack existence [in] downtown [Los Angeles]. I did this very "classic rock" horrible thing where I let the producer tell me that she sucked, let him play me a tape—this is so, like, out of the rock bad cliché book—let him play me a tape of her sounding the worst, that he had basically cobbled together. He'd kept a guy on retainer the whole time [...] I ruined her life for two years because I kicked her out of the band for the duration of the record.[23]

Lyrics and themesEdit

Our band is a collective, but Courtney has a lot of ideas and it's weird how they infiltrate our lives—it just happens. Like with the drowning theme, there were all these things going on while we were making this album, like Jeff Buckley drowning. And years before [bassist] Kristen [Pfaff] died in a bathtub. My father died basically drowning in his own body, he couldn't breathe, and Melissa's father died of lung cancer. Those were literal things, but drowning became a metaphor for this record and for all the people we had lost.

Eric Erlandson on writing Celebrity Skin[24]

For her lyrics on the album, Love cited numerous literary influences, including T.S. Eliot.[2] Several songs on the album reference, and sometimes directly quote, multiple literary works: The album's title track directly quotes The House of Life by Dante Rossetti ("my name is might-have-been"),[25] as well as William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice ("So glad I came here with your pound of flesh").[26] "Awful," the album's third single, references Neil Diamond's "Cherry, Cherry," as well as the American spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."[27]

Various lyrical references to Hollywood and California culture are present throughout the album.[28] Whereas the band's debut, Pretty on the Inside, had dealt with the "repulsive aspects of L.A.—superficiality, sexism, violence, and drugs,"[29] Celebrity Skin examined the more opulent elements of Los Angeles—specifically from the perspective of Love, who at the time had risen as an A-list star[28]— but "deconstructed the concept, picking off the healing scab of her public reinvention to rehash the wounds of her past."[28]

Another prominent lyrical and aesthetic theme on the record was water and drowning, as cited by Erlandson in a 1998 interview on the album's composition and recording sessions.[24] The themes of water and drowning were carried over to the album's packaging, which included the painting Ophelia Drowning (1895) by Paul Albert Steck,[13] as well as photographs of the Modesto Arch and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in the liner notes.[13] The album is dedicated to "the stolen water of Los Angeles and to anyone who ever drowned," the former referring to the California Water Wars.[24]

In a 1998 interview during the album's recording sessions, Love divulged that she wanted to name the album Holy War, as she felt it was "a mission statement. It’s a statement of such pretense and import. It’s incredibly ambitious."[15] Erlandson alternately wanted to name the record Sugar Coma, which Love opposed, stating it was "pedestrian—it denotes the end of a cycle. Something deadly. If executives like it, you know it’s bad."[15] The final title, Celebrity Skin, was teased by Love during a 1995 interview with Jools Holland, in which she joked that she was considering naming their upcoming album Celebrity Skin because she'd "touched a lot of it."[30] She subsequently clarified that she had derived the name from a short-lived band in Los Angeles named Celebrity Skin, as well as a bootleg tabloid magazine featuring nude candid photos of celebrities.[30]


Despite the extreme measures undertaken by Hole's label, DGC Records, to prevent the album from leaking (including an "iron clad" agreement that prohibited music journalists who received advance copies from allowing anyone else to hear or record the album), the first single from the album, "Celebrity Skin", was leaked three weeks before its intended release dates and played "nearly a dozen times" on New York radio station WXRK (92.3 FM) and their Los Angeles-based sister station, KROQ-FM (106.7 FM), on the weekend of July 31 to August 2, 1998.[31][N 1] DGC spokesperson Jim Merlis denied that the leak originated from them and issued WXRK a cease and desist order on August 3.[31] Nevertheless, San Francisco radio station Live 105 (105.3 FM) played the single again the following weekend.[32]

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [33]
The Austin Chronicle     [34]
Christgau's Consumer Guide  [35]
Entertainment WeeklyC+[36]
The Guardian     [37]
Houston Chronicle     [38]
Los Angeles Times    [39]
Rolling Stone     [41]

Celebrity Skin received positive reviews in 1998. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau said Love is "better punk than actress, better actress than popster" and listed the title track and "Awful" as the album's most notable songs.[35] Robert Cherry of the Alternative Press described Celebrity Skin's sound as "meticulously orchestrated guitars, multilayered vocal harmonies, quantized drums and sheeny studio magic" and said the songs "hit nerve centers like a thousand AM classics."[43] The Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov referred to the album as "end of the summer crunch-pop from the most enigmatic woman around" but criticized Love's "painful, quasi-Freudian vein" and "Michael Beinhorn's slick, SoCal production."[34] Entertainment Weekly reviewer David Browne said "the music is sleeker and more taut than anything Hole have done".[36] The Los Angeles Times reviewer Robert Hilburn called the album "one wild emotional ride" and "a far more complex work than the invigorating, mainstream coating would lead you to believe."[39] Steve Sutherland of NME mentioned that "the first thing you think when Celebrity Skin smacks you in the nose is that you may never need to hear a rock 'n' roll record ever again," compared the album's sound to Fleetwood Mac.[40] Rolling Stone described it as "sprung, flung and fun, high-impact, rock-fueled pop" and noted that "it teems with sonic knockouts that make you see all sorts of stars and is accessible, fiery and intimate – often at the same time,"[41] while Spin reviewer Joshua Clover referred to the album as "a record filled with quotation and reference, backtalk and revision" and said "there are too many great songs, and this is a magnificent pop record."[42] A review published in Musician also praised the album, particularly Erlandson's guitar contributions, noting: "Erlandson's tireless, monomaniacal guitar wizardry gives Celebrity Skin its gorgeous textures and resonant power."[44]

Several publications also listed Celebrity Skin in year-end periodical lists, including Time, who listed the album at number 9 on its Best of 1998 Music list,[45] Spin, who listed the album at number 11 on its Top 20 Albums of the Year list,[27] and The Village Voice, who listed the album at number 14 in the Pazz and Jop Critics' Poll.[46]

In a piece celebrating the album's 20th anniversary, Stereogum critic Gabriela Claymore characterized it as a "polished, decadent rock [record] with something rotten at its core... Hole's most sonically accomplished album but it is not their best."[12] AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine said the album was "a glaze of shiny guitars and hazy melodies, all intended to evoke the heyday of Californian pop in the late '70s," awarding the album three and a half stars out of five.[33] Tom Edwards of Drowned in Sound was more critical in a retrospective review, referring to "Awful" as "gorgeous, pure blues" and "Hit So Hard" as "the best song about love since 'Retard Girl'," but concluding that "it's a weak record full of empty music either way."[47]

Commercial performanceEdit

Celebrity Skin was a commercial success, charting in 13 countries worldwide within a week of its release. In the United States, the album debuted at number 9 on the Billboard 200 with sales of 86,000 copies in its first week.[48] The album was certified Gold by the RIAA on October 13, 1998[49] and later certified Platinum on December 21,[49] with sales of over 1 million copies. As of 2010, the album has sold nearly 2 million copies worldwide; 1.4 million copies in the United States[46] and 124,221 copies in the United Kingdom.[50] The album has also been certified Platinum in Canada[51] with sales of over 100,000 copies and two times Platinum in Australia[52] with sales of over 140,000 copies.

The album received three nominations at the 41st Grammy Awards in 1999:[53] Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song, and Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. "Malibu" later received a Grammy nomination at the 42nd Grammy Awards in 2000 for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group,[54] and its music video, and the director Martin Coppen, was also nominated for Best Cinematography at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards.[55] In 2002, the music video for "Malibu", and its cinematographer, won the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award in Cinematography from the Music Video Production Association.[56]

Track listingEdit

All lyrics written by Courtney Love.

1."Celebrity Skin"2:42
3."Hit So Hard"
  • Love
  • Erlandson
  • Corgan
  • Love
  • Erlandson
  • Corgan
5."Reasons to Be Beautiful"
  • Love
  • Erlandson
  • Corgan
7."Use Once & Destroy"
  • Love
  • Erlandson
  • Auf der Maur
  • Schemel
8."Northern Star"Erlandson4:58
9."Boys on the Radio"
  • Love
  • Erlandson
  • Auf der Maur
10."Heaven Tonight"Erlandson3:31
11."Playing Your Song"
  • Love
  • Erlandson
  • Auf der Maur
  • Love
  • Erlandson
  • Corgan
Total length:50:23
Japanese bonus track[57]
13."Best Sunday Dress"
Total length:54:48




  1. ^ The leak also affected another album Michael Beinhorn was producing at the same time, Marilyn Manson's Mechanical Animals.[31]


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Works citedEdit

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit