Twenty-nine years ago, the legendary alternative rock band Hole released their seminal debut album, Pretty on the Inside—an urgent and formative collection of songs that drew from the band’s hardcore punk roots.
Produced by the legendary Kim Gordon, the instrumentation is a chaotic, messy and accessible product of Sonic Youth’s no wave formula, with a hardcore punk and sludge-metal edge. Eric Erlandson’s abrasive guitar work coupled with the thrashing screams from prophetic rock goddess Courtney Love as she details her experiences with violence, womanhood, and self-actualization are what make this album stand the test of time.
On “Garbage Man,” Love details her experiences with abuse and emotional abandonment at the hands men like her father and stepfather, which culminated in a reluctance to trust men as a whole (“Where the fuck were you when my lights went out?”). “Teenage Whore” explores the complicated relationship that many women have with their sexuality, and the learned repression and shame they develop as a result. Love tells the story of a young woman dealing with this specific struggle, and also takes on the voice of her mother, who doesn’t approve of her daughter engaging in such behavior. The title track, “Pretty on the Inside,” tackles the commodification of beauty through sex work, which Love wrote when she worked as a stripper at the Orange No. 5 Club in Vancouver.
Whenever I revisit this album, there isn’t a single skippable track; every single song is immaculate. I have always thought that Courtney Love was a criminally underrated lyrical genius. Couplets like “I’ve seen your repulsion, it looks real good on you,” and Love’s angry, feverish tone and delivery on the song “Babydoll” as she screams “My raw hand, my fever blister/Watch me, watch me, watch me disappear,” is so emotionally evocative, and it’s incredibly clear that every time she screamed those lyrics from the pits of her core, she meant them with every fiber of her being.
Discovering this album at a turning point in my life when I turned 19 was monumental. I was struggling to come to terms with my own identity as a young woman whilst dealing with chronic anxiety and body dysmorphia. Courtney Love was a force of nature; in the same vein as the riot grrrl bands that were adjacent to Hole, the way she acted was the polar opposite of a meek little girl, and I found a great deal of comfort and catharsis in her writing and rock star persona, leaning on her rage as a crutch.
Temper tantrums are necessary, but if they were socially acceptable it would never be considered embarrassing or inappropriate to have at least one temper tantrum a day. Instead we are left to choose more productive and private outlets to channel outrage. This album filled that void for me, and continues to transcend space and time even now. Courtney Love has since distanced herself from the album, but I will always look upon “Pretty on the Inside” with awe and admiration beyond comprehension.