From the moment the Pyromania guitars herald open the title track on Celebrity Skin, it's clear Hole no longer is tortured. Gone are the roaring guitars and noise, the pain and the anguish that informed Pretty on the Inside and Live Through This. Some angst remains, but it's buried under a glaze of shiny guitars and hazy melodies, all intended to evoke the heyday of Californian pop in the late '70s. Conceptually, it's a bold move for a band that's nearly synonymous with grunge, but the makeover doesn't quite work. Part of the reason is that Hole's music was always compelling as nakedly cathartic spectacle -- and that's exactly what has been excised on Celebrity Skin. In the past, Courtney Love pushed her emotions to the forefront, and the sheer forcefulness of her personality disguised the anonymity of her bandmates. A toned-down Love still may not be able to carry a tune, but there's little grit to her performance on Celebrity Skin, so she effortlessly blends with the faceless musical support -- which is strange, considering her overpowering public image. Walking the line between soft rock and confessional grunge was a difficult task regardless, and to its credit, Hole -- with the assistance of producer Michael Beinhorn and consultant Billy Corgan, who is credited with co-writing five songs and essentially pioneered the very sound of Celebrity Skin with his Smashing Pumpkins albums -- has created an album that sounds like an arena rock monster, but the hooks sink only halfway in, so it doesn't have much impact. It is a complete makeover, but instead of metamorphosing into a new band, Hole has unwittingly neutered itself.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine