Looking back at Hole’s debut “Pretty On The Inside”

The Los Angeles Alternative Rock band debut remains a seminal album of the “Riot grrrl” movement

Looking back at Hole’s debut “Pretty On The Inside”

Hole’s debut album “Pretty On The Inside” was released on September 17th, 1991. The Los Angeles Alternative Rock band lead by Courtney Love put out one of the defining Alternative Rock records of the 90’s in 1994 with “Live Through This”, however, their debut is significantly different from their second album.  The album features distorted and alternating guitar compositions, screaming vocals, and “sloppy punk ethics”, a style which the band would later distance themselves from, opting for a less abrasive sound on their subsequent releases. Love’s lyrics on the album are often narrative, graphic, and abstract, detailing issues of violence, self-realization, and womanhood.

Hole Guitarist Eric Erlandson said that early in Hole’s career, they were more interested in “making noise” than achieving success and before drummer Caroline Rue joined the band that they used no percussion whatsoever. It was not until Love and Erlandson heard Grunge band Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” that they began to think about taking the band to the next level. In January 1991, Love sent Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon a letter, a Hello Kitty barrette, and copies of the band’s early singles, mentioning that the band greatly admired Gordon’s work and appreciated “the production of the SST record” (referring to Sonic Youth’s “EVOL” or “Sister”)  Gordon agreed on the condition that her friend, Gumball frontman Don Fleming, assist.The band entered Music Box Studios in Los Angeles with Gordon and Fleming in March 1991, and worked on the album for one week; the songs were recorded over a period of four days, and were mixed over the course of a further three days. During the recording sessions for the album, Love purportedly gargled whiskey and excessively smoked cigarettes before takes to give a raw edge to her vocals.Gordon said that Love “was either charming and nice or screaming at her band” but that she was “a really good singer and entertainer and front person.”The music of Pretty on the Inside is most often noted for its abrasive instrumentation and for its sophisticated use of melody buried under arrangements. The album’s sonic elements are heavily influenced by Los Angeles hardcore punk as well as New York’s no wave scene; many of the tracks are accompanied by overt use of feedback, experimental playing, wah pedals, and use of sampling and interpolation. Rapid sliding techniques and string muting are also heavily present on the album, as well as what Love and Erlandson describe as “Sonic Youth tunings”. Love’s vocals range from whispers to violent screaming, often in succession with the extreme shifts in speed and volume. The album opens with “Teenage Whore”, which is a classic Hole songwritting style song followed by “Babydoll” and “Garbadge Man” one of the album’s most memorable songs, discusses abandonment and alienation, as well as crisis of spirituality, and is one of the few songs on the album to feature a verse–chorus–verse composition. “Sassy” and “Good Sister/Bad Sister” are the tracks that follows, being the later one of the strongest in the album. “Mrs. Jones”, “Berry” and “Loaded” are loud and grungy, “Starbelly” it’s pieces of songs glued together as in an artwork, it is based on Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” and features analog cassette excerpts from “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac and an early recording excerpt of “Best Sunday Dress” by Pagan Babies, one of Love’s earlier bands with Kat Bjelland from Babes In Toyland. The album closes with two songs that are bridged together as a single piece: “Pretty on the Inside”, noted for its hostile lyrics and allusions to vanity and “Clouds”, a dark and raucous cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” from her 1969 album Clouds. The cover of the song features altered lyrics that appear to illustrate a suicide scene.

Packaging and Artwork

The album was released on CD and cassette in the United States, but received a release on vinyl LP throughout Europe by City Slang, based in Berlin, Germany. The first 3,000 pressings of the LP featured blue vinyl, while the following pressings were in standard black The artwork for Pretty on the Inside is abstract in comparison to Hole’s later album artwork. The front cover of the album features a heavily saturated pink press photo of the band amidst forest underbrush, taken by photographer Vickie Berndt. Berndt said that “Courtney wanted something striking and unusual” and Berndt was experimenting with color infrared film during the shoot, testing exposure settings with Love. The interior artwork, presented in a booklet on the CD version of the album and on the record sleeve on vinyl releases, features an assemblage of scribbled and typewritten lyrics, personal “thank you” notes, cutouts of Catholic and Renaissance artwork, as well as childlike drawings and storybook pictures juxtaposed with photos of women in bondage.


“Pretty On The Inside” is a seminal album on the “Riot grrrl” feminist Punk music movement that walked hand in hand with the Grunge movement during the early 90’s, with bands like Babes In Toyland, L7 or Bikini Kill leading the way. It is unfiltered Hole with very little Nirvana influence as the album was written before Courtney Love start dating Kurt Cobain regularly, which would strongly influence the songwriting of Hole’s singles and albums to come. It is viewed as a product of an era where Alternative Rock dominated the radio waves and music charts, however, it never really reached the success as other records of the same genre released during the same period, despite that, it remains an influential Alternative/Grunge record and one of Hole’s finest. The album has also gained a cult following among rock and punk music fans since it’s release in 1991.

Side 1
1 “Teenage Whore”
2 “Babydoll”
3 “Garbadge Man”
4 “Sassy”
5 “Good Sister / Bad Sister”

Side 2
6 “Mrs. Jones”
7 “Berry”
8 “Loaded”
9 “Starbelly”
10 “Pretty On The Inside”
11 “Clouds”

Courtney Love: lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Eric Erlandson: lead guitar
Jill Emery: bass
Caroline Rue: drums, percussion

Technical Personnel:
Kim Gordon: producer
Don Fleming: producer
Brian Foxworthy: engineer
Courtney Love: art direction
Vicki Berndt: photography (front cover)
Pizz: typography
Jill Emery: painting (back cover)

Recorded during: March 1991 at Music Box Studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Produced by: Kim Gordon and Don Fleming
Release Date: September 17th, 1991
Label: Caroline (U.S) /City Slang (Europe)

“Teenage Whore” Released: September 23, 1991

Strongest tracks:

“Teenage Whore”,  “Garbadge Man”, “Good Sister / Bad Sister”,  “Mrs. Jones”,  “Pretty On The Inside”

Watch the 1991 music video of “Garbadge Man” by Hole

Listen to “Pretty On The Inside” on Spotify

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David Warren

David Warren is editor and author for Pop Expresso reach out at david@popexpresso.com

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