The first thing you need to know about “Live Through This,” Hole’s sophomore effort and major-label debut, is that the album arrived on April 12, 1994, four days after Kurt Cobain was found dead. That means none of these songs—all about fame and familial drama and even suicide—were written by a widowed woman. Courtney Love penned these tunes with a prescient rage matched only by her pop savvy, as if she knew her band was going to blow up just as her world fell apart.
That’s the gist of “Live Through This,” Love’s bid for mainstream success following Hole’s abrasive first album, “Pretty On the Inside.” Co-written by guitarist Eric Erlandson and released on Geffen, the same label that broke Nirvana, “Live Through This” is hooky and horrific—a warts-and-all portrait of a young mother who’d spent her 20s stripping, doing drugs, taking bit parts in movies, and generally scraping for the fame she’d suddenly found.
Although it only reached No. 52 on the Billboard 200, “Live Through This” was a hit with critics, and 20 years later, as Perfect Pussy, White Lung, Savages, EMA, and countless other female artists challenge the male-dominated underground to take them seriously, it holds up remarkably well.
Scroll down to read our track-by-track review of the record that established Courtney as an artist in her own right. It’s a modern classic, regardless of what’s thought of Love now.
As the opening track on Hole’s big-league debut, this was Courtney’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a quiet-loud-quiet rager in which she dares the world to make her into the commodity she fears—and to some extent secretly hopes—she’s becoming.
Life’s a pageant, and here, contestant Courtney gives it to the judges plain and simple: “I’m miss world / somebody kill me.” The song moves along at a listless pace, as if Courtney is swishing around in a tattered evening gown, dragging her skirt over busted glass and cigarette butts. The message, in case it wasn’t already clear: Take me as I am.
Having a baby changes everything, and on this visceral, ugly, utterly captivating track, Love addresses not just the shock of motherhood, but also the custody battle—brought on by her alleged heroin use—that followed the birth of daughter Francis Bean. What it lacks in tenderness it quadruples in honesty.
“Asking For It”
Again, Love looks at celebrity with a degree of ambivalence. She feels “cheaper than I need to,” but on some level, she knows she’s “asking for” whatever comes her way. The line that gives the album its title may be the saddest on the whole record, particularly if it’s about Kurt: “If you live through this with me / I swear that I will die with you.”
Seemingly a song about a cheating lover, “Jennifer’s Body” is more about Love than it is the other woman, who’s reduced to an object kept in a box beside the bed. Courtney’s mad at herself, and as happens throughout “Live Through This,” the anger pushes her to new heights.
Onstage, rocking her signature vintage dresses, Courtney did the ugly-pretty thing better than anyone, and by comparing herself to a tattered baby doll—“dog bait,” as she says—she solidifies her image. Being “the girl with the most cake” is both a terrific and terrible fate, and Courtney’s ready for the sugar high and stomachache.
“Credit In the Straight World”
Originally by Welsh post-punks Young Marble Giants, this might as well be a Love original. It’s about feeling ripped apart and underappreciated, and the band plays with gloriously cruddy defensiveness.
On this ballad, Courtney makes reference to childhood traumas and returns to the “Plump” imagery of getting sick on milk. The music is soft, but our heroine isn’t out of the deep, dark woods just yet.
“She Walks On Me”
With its lines about “anorexic magazines” and “my blushing bride,” the punkiest cut on “Live Through This” finds Love working through her unique brand of feminism. It sounds pretty proud and defiant—except that the title refers to being stepped on.
“I Think That I Would Die”
Another mention of milk, only this time, Courtney is telling us there’s none. Whether the “baby” Love calls for is her newborn daughter or her spiraling husband, this is momma Courtney in the kitchen, throwing pots and pans.
Lest anyone think Courtney is a victim, “Gutless” is her lashing out at friends, elitists—anyone in her way, basically. She wants to “drink the honey blood,” though by track 10, she’s smashed every glass in the house.
What does Courtney think of the “riot grrrl” movement? “Come on, make me sick!” she snarls, clearly not interested in joining the ranks of the college-educated feminist punks then holding court in the Pacific Northwest. And, hey, just to show she’s not perfect, she opens the track with a little slip-up she easily could have cut.