What EMA's "Meta-Grunge" Teaches Us About Fame, The NSA, And Courtney Love

Last month, Courtney Love announced on Facebook that she'd possibly located Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. She had not. But my god, that would've been glorious. Oil right where she'd scrawled, "Oil"; the plane right where she'd scrawled, "Plane?" One of the great and terrible mysteries of our young century, cracked by one of the great and terribly reviled musical arch-villains of our last century, on Facebook, "C-L" helpfully scrawled in the lower-right-hand corner so we'd know it was her, but who else could it be? Who else would you want it to be?

It is hard not to think about (or at least hear about) Ms. Love constantly, even today, her appetite for destruction now largely confined to social media, or a courtroom, or somehow both (Twitter libel!). She still enjoys trolling the bejesus out of Nirvana fans (Kurt Cobain: The Musical!), but that's a double-edged sword at best, an endless slog of clickbait-ennui anniversaries. (Twenty years since Kurt died last week; 25 years of Nevermind before you know it, and they'll be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday. Something untoward will probably happen.)

As for her own music, there's a palpable sense of wasted potential, a fear that Love is doomed to be Miss Havisham in Madonna's '84 VMA's wedding dress, though she's now threatening to reunite Hole's most successful lineup. ("They'll never be as tight as they were," cracked a writer friend who feared Tweeting that would attract the wrong element, new-follower-wise.) Until then, it's up to newer, (slightly) less fame-beleaguered artists to keep her sonic legacy alive. To wit:


Here we have "So Blonde," from the uneasily glitzy L.A.-via-South-Dakota anti-pop star a/k/a Erika M. Anderson. The grunge-bubblegum scuzz, the sneered slur of the verses, the screeching "SOOOOO BLONDE" earworm of a chorus ... you-know-who immediately pops into your head. She could've sold this song to Love for a billion dollars, or maybe that's the amount Anderson owes: Even the lyrics seem to trace the arc of Alternative Nation's doomed First Couple, especially the final lines:

So lemme tell you bout this girl I know
He'll introduce you to the band
You wanna love her, hate her, you don't know
But I think she's all we're gonna get

So lemme tell you bout this boy I know
He's bleached from here to hell and back
You wanna go over after the show
You know he's never coming back

This is no accident—Anderson described the song to the New York Times as "funny and meta-grunge ... what do you do when the world only gives you one successful rocker-poet woman in your life, and that woman happens to be Courtney Love? I spent too many years being a Courtney apologist, and that wears you out." EMA's second album, The Future's Void (streaming here), is about that exhaustion, about the price of fame or even "fame," about the harrowing realization that Love's fate might now be everyone's. The NSA made government-paparazzi victims of us all; Twitter made self-destructing over-sharers of us all; the Internet as a whole made soulless unrecognizable-shells-of-our-former-selves of us all. It ain't pretty, and it ain't perfect, but it gets under your wannabe-celebrity skin.

Anderson is largely doing the reluctant-pop-star thing here, even if you can put "pop" (she's awful noisy), "reluctant" (she's doing plenty of press), and maybe especially "star" in scare quotes. She's a critical darling unlikely to get too huge: After fronting death-folk band Gowns (whose horrifically druggy 2007 album Red State sounds like Wendy from Breaking Bad in her death throes), she rebranded solo as EMA in 2011 with Past Life Martyred Saints, which peaks early with "California," which peaks early with "Fuck California / You made me boring," possibly the best opening line since "Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I'm bored and old."

The Future's Void has no single moment that startling—after the lovely, anti-viral piano ballad "3Jane"(track three), it trails off into a series of drones and dirges and dodges—not quite self-sabotage, but somewhat disinterested in getting you too interested. (Tapped for SPIN's song-by-song covers tribute to Nevermind, Anderson chose "Endless Nameless," the punishing, atonal hidden track meant to convey Cobain's blatant loathing for all the candy-coated compromise that preceded it.) She's quick to note that the Edward Snowden overtones of alluringly blaring opener "Satellites" and the fact that she's wearing an Oculus Rift on her album cover are strange, not entirely welcome coincidences: "Current events are fucking up my record." But there's an Internet-age-manifesto feel to the lyrics here, from "Makin' a living off of takin' selfies" to "Like an American superpower / Turn on the spotlight / Nobody cowers."

Your funereal-organ finale is "Dead Celebrity," which, yeah: "Tell me what you want to see / When you click on the link / Of the dead celebrity." Thus ends a decent record that, best-case scenario, drives you back into the arms of a fantastic one: Back on 1998's Celebrity Skin, Love mined the same trauma, the technology only slightly adjusted, on Hole's still-transcendent "Boys on the Radio," which remains the best thing she's ever done.

The YouTube fan art sorta says it all there, unfortunately. Meanwhile, she's already walking back the Hole-reunion rumors, which is both a relief (Courtney Love live is historically problematic) and a shame. Being even a former C-L apologist is a full-time job, and The Future's Void sounds both inspired and defeated by the effort, but love her or just fear for her, I think she's all we're gonna get.