I revisited this record, recently. What can I say about it that hasn’t already been said? Exactly. So here are 80 words to try to cover it…
It’s where Nirvana rocketed into the stratosphere. Certified Diamond and still selling today. There were four singles, but shoulda been a ton more. Arguably, it’s the record that brought ‘grunge’ and ‘alternative’ kicking and moping into the limelight.
I still prefer the raw blast of Bleach, but it’s pretty damn hard to argue with this one, top to bottom. It is perfectly recorded, perfectly crafted, a one in a million moon shot that exceeded all expectations. Epochal.
I still like Bleach best, of their output, but this one runs a close second. If you care about the band at all, you’ll know all of these songs. Sure, they’re just a bunch of outtakes, demos, radio broadcasts, covers (and the Sliver single), but they are as strong, if not stronger, than a lot of the slicker stuff that hit radio.
It’s actually been ages since I gave this one a workout, and it still stands up. Love this CD.
PS: There’s lots more info on the release HERE. I hadn’t realized it contained the work of 4 different drummers. I knew they weren’t fully formed yet, but damn!
Walking through our local grocery store a couple of nights ago. As always, I was pretty attuned to the muzak playing over the speakers in the ceiling. It was a lot of shitty-sounding shit.
And then they played Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Not a muzak version. The album version from Nevermind. And at a really low, unobtrusive volume, too.
Yeah, I’m sure Kurt meant for his song to be played while your Grandma chooses her vegetables.
We still don’t have a new record store in town since the Music World died its inglorious death at New Year. Where are you, HMV? At least you’d be better than nothing! Anyway, thus far we are reduced to finding what little enjoyable media we can at the local Wal-Mart. I know. But, every once in a while, it seems, one or two cool things wash up on their content-controlled shores.
For example, this DVD of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York, which I got for $10. This is an excellent deal for an excellent show. Damn, what a great band.
There’s lots that is cool about this show. Consider these facts: They played only a couple of their hits, instead favouring cover tunes and more obscure tracks from their catalogue. They announced Special Guests and while everyone speculated who it might be, with things getting, of course, more and more grand leading up to the unveiling, it turned out to be Curt and Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets (which I think is awesome), and everyone went “oh.” Haha. Idiots. Meat Puppets rock.
And then there’s the band themselves. Dave Grohl put on one helluva show of controlled drumming in this set. Sure, he looks bored, but for a band that was used to bashing away with abandon, this set shows that they actually are/were talented musicians. Same goes for Krist Novoselic. He has always seemed a little wonky, but the boy can play, no question. And Kurt Cobain himself seemed somehow in a different mood that night, somewhat resigned but willing to experiment, reasonably lucid, and to me, he looked relaxed. This set really showed off his vocal skills (and yes, that scream is a skill too), and his unique guitar work.
They are also joined onstage by Pat Smear (now of Foo Fighters, as is Grohl, of course), who had just begun to play with the band. And adding some cello goodness was Lori Goldston, who looked like she was either concentrating very hard or completely unimpressed to be there (it’s hard to tell). But she sounded great and really added to the tunes, no question.
The only downside to this disc is the special features. I hate special features, bar none. I haven’t seen any that make me want to watch them all the way through (not even the stuff on the extended Lord Of The Rings box sets). All these are, really, just a bunch of people yammering about who’s a genius, and how this is the best project they’ve ever worked on, everything that happened was a defining moment, yada yada yada. Worse, on this disc it’s the people who put on the show, and some of the people who were there. With the benefit of hindsight (because I’m sure few people knew what would happen a short time later), they can drool all over themselves ad nauseum. Just shut up, you idiots. Shut. Up. Of course, they might say the same thing to me for having written this. Whatever.
There is one cool feature, the never-before-seen rehearsals performed by the band prior to the show. It’s like getting to be there for sound-check, seeing them experiment with set-ups and volumes, and who would play what instrument. Cool.
One other thing I noticed about this set was that, since this is the first-ever DVD release of this gig (and it’s the entire show, not the edited-for-TV version), I found it strange to be watching them play these songs. You see, I’ve owned the CD of this show for years, and I have grown accustomed to letting the voices and the instruments speak to me. So seeing a video of them playing it was definitely outside of what I’ve been used to – but not really in a bad way, I’m just pointing it out.
So Wally World came through on this rare occasion, selling me this brilliant show so cheaply. It’s an important historical document of a band that hit their peak and then never really left it (in my humble opinion), playing songs in a far different manner from what they were used to doing at gigs. It is imperfect and raw, and therefore it is perfect.
You should own this. It’s well worth it.
01 About A Girl
02 Come As You Are
03 Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam
04 The Man Who Sold The World
05 Pennyroyal Tea
08 On A Plain
09 Something In The Way
11 Oh, Me
12 Lake Of Fire
13 All Apologies
14 Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
01 Original MTV Version of the show
02 MTV News: Bare Witness (interviews)
03 The Rehearsals:
Come As You Are
The Man Who Sold The World
A lot of writers wax poetic about Kurt Cobain being our generation’s John Lennon. I say maybe, and maybe not. I won’t debate the subject here, except to say that he was definitely a poet and a huge influence, but it still kinda feels to me like they had to latch on to somebody as the Voice Of A Generation, to give people something to talk about. Coulda been anyone. I know, I know. Blasphemy!
This record, then, should be the Holy Grail of Nirvana lore, the template for where it all began, the source. And it is. Then again, it isn’t. It is indeed the band’s first record, but it’s not the one that made them hugely popular (and if you don’t know which album I mean here, you’ve been living on another planet, haven’t you). The two records didn’t even have all of the same players on them. And Bleach doesn’t really, to me, give the listener a glimpse of what was next. Its raw sound somehow feels richer than their later, more polished efforts.
The Unplugged In New York record made About A Girl popular several years later, but for me that’s not the highlight track, it’s Negative Creep. That chugging, punishing riff makes the story he’s telling even more intriguing. Really, though, there’s not a bad track here. It works as a whole, and it’s heavy as hell. Crank it up and let it howl, and just listen to that bottom end. Awesome. The songs themselves are so simple, musically, just like good punk music tends to be. But there’s elegance in simplicity, and this record has it for sure. The lyrics have something to say, and they’re shouted and screamed so the point can’t be missed. The whole thing just feels honest.
It says right on the packaging that it cost the band only $600 to record this album, and that’s what I love most about it: take your shitty gear, what little money you can scrape together, go into a studio on that shoestring budget and make the record you want to make. There’s no stupid people in suits telling you what will sell or not, no real pressure or deadline. Just the songs you’ve worked up, the message you want to convey, and the energy and passion of doing this for the first time. I love first albums best, almost always, for all of these reasons. This one is a prime example.
Bleach is always on my playlist, and I turn it to it regularly when I want a blast of great, loud grunge born of punk and metal. We all know where Nirvana went after this, but listening to this record makes me really believe Kurt when he’d say he didn’t want all the attention they later received.
02 Floyd The Barber
03 About A Girl
05 Love Buzz
06 Paper Cuts
07 Negative Creep
09 Swap Meet
10 Mr. Moustache
12 Big Cheese
I had a troubling experience in a Wal-Mart last night. What’s that, you say? Impossible? Oh no, my friend, rare is the trip to such a place that isn’t troubling to me, but that’s another rant for another day.
We were in that particular flourescent-lit muzak hell to pick up a few things for a painting project that’s on-going here at the house. And yes, I’m aware that we should have gone downtown and shopped local instead of feeding the Big Corporate Beast, but downtown was closed by that time…
So we were wandering about, and my ear was drawn to the music coming from those tinny little overhead speakers. Ordinarily I try my best to tune out the Really Crappy Players Orchestra’s version of Rod Stewart’s greatest hits, or whatever other shite it is that they play. But last night it was an actual song, and that was what caught my ear. Worse, it was Nirvana. Come As You Are.
I shit you not. It was not a cover version, or an elevator-music version. It was the actual song, from Nevermind. Like I said, I was troubled by this. You would have been, too.
I realize that Kurt has been dead for over a decade now, and it wasn’t exactly as though they were underground and unknown after Nevermind broke anyway. It’s well-known that they were plastered up all over everywhere and commodified to the nth degree, and that was, apart from her own mental health issues, part of what lead Courtney to… oh, er, sorry, I mean it was that level of fame that Kurt couldn’t handle, which led to his unfortunate addicitions and, ultimately, to his untimely demise by his own hand.
Anyway, there was something deeply disgusting to me that that band’s music, which had been so important to so many people, from an album that had changed the way the entire music industry was heading, was now wafting quietly down from the speakers of a Wal-Mart in small town Ontario, and being absorbed into the mall-softened brains of soccer moms and the elderly. I don’t want to say it was somehow sacriligious but… wait, I just did. And it was.
It felt like the final chance the band had to keep any credibility had been lost.
Said the guy who was in the Wal-Mart in the first place.