Archive releases exist between two opposing poles. Firstly, by their nature, they’re not about quality.They’re leftovers and unfinished material – they’re never going to be what was intended to be released until an artist makes a later decision to monetise them. Secondly, unfortunately, sometimes a curatorial desire does seep in – suddenly, while raking through the material, someone decides to be more cautious, to pick material that can be deemed to have a certain degree of quality. The best of the leftovers, the most finished material, the most original material – other urges creep into an exercise in completism.

In the case of “Montage of Heck”, I’ve actually been a pretty big supporter of the work. Brett Morgen took the material that exists in Cobain’s archive and made a film about families. He ignored most footage of Nirvana playing or interviewing except for use in the rapid-fire montages, he made a good decision to consider the career of Nirvana known territory and therefore background to what he was doing. I also thought the ‘layered’ nature of the campaign – cinema experience, book, DVD, soundtrack release – made absolute sense with each format being a legitimate facet of the project.

So, why am I wincing a little? OK, you can buy the DVD or Blu-ray for $22.50 on You can buy the book for $23.37. The vinyl is $29.99. The initial pricing of the Super-Deluxe package at $150 dollars for the whole lot isn’t wildly outside of the ballpark. But…Really? I’m not sure about you but I don’t buy Blu-ray because I don’t watch enough TV to bother with yet another format – especially to watch a film made up of 1970s home movie footage and talking heads. And if I did buy Blu-ray, then why would I also want the DVD if I’d deemed it an obsolete format? Getting both together doesn’t interest me so all that does is the music and the extras. Let’s focus on them.

Let’s be blunt, this isn’t about art. The idea of turning Cobain’s artwork into a puzzle isn’t illegitimate, but it’s a novelty item – and I try to avoid anything that reeks of novelty when it comes to Nirvana and Cobain whether that means drinks coasters, posters, dolls, a ‘collectible storage container’, postcards, bookmarks…Oh, in other words most everything coming with the boxset. No harm in any of it but I’m pretty sure this is still about the music so that’s what matters. I considered the magnet on the front of the ‘In Utero’ Super-Deluxe a waste of time too incidentally. Fun but very what the heck.

I’ve purchased the Super-Deluxe of both ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ without the slightest quibble – why? Because I felt I was getting both music and content. The books accompanying each were interesting and well-done and upped what I was willing to pay slightly. But acquiring the CD and DVD of the respective live shows was the key factor for me, however. I don’t watch TV much as I said so the DVDs were once-a-year viewing, the CD a lot more. Here, there’s a DVD I’ve already seen.

But there are 48 minutes of extras…But the film is already too long. It’s the chief flaw, just my feeling, that even I was getting restless in my seat and I’m a fanatic – and who else is going to buy this other than fanatics? So they’re touching the right audience, but as I’m audio-orientated, book-orientated, not film-orientated or art-orientated, getting more of the film doesn’t enthrall me unless they mean its 48 minutes of Cobain recording himself playing music. In which case…

…In which case, my only issue with the ‘With the Lights Out’ box-set? I’m sad that the DVD component didn’t come with a matching CD. I’d like to have heard some of that material just as audio. It’s a minor complaint – it was a good box-set. So, in this case, if there’s musically interesting material amid the DVD extras then I already feel a degree of annoyance having to pick through whatever else is on there – and having to boot up DVD player and TV – just to find it.

Which brings everything back to the music. I am truly excited to hear the 31 track release – end of story. No quibbles. No doubts. No whining! I wanna hear it! I’ll buy it! I said right back months ago that I was all set to buy tickets for the film (done!), buy the DVD (done!), buy the book (done!) and buy the soundtrack (not yet!) I was very happy to exchange a rather insignificant quantity of money, over several months, to experience a range of settings. The film was worth seeing at a cinema – Morgen was right to set the volume levels as he did, it really added to the ferocity of it all. The film was worth seeing on DVD – the film does bear repeated viewing.

The book, to be honest, didn’t do much for me. It wasn’t a poor product, no issue there at all, if you don’t have it it IS worth checking out for the interviews with people who don’t normally speak – plus the focused nature of the book. Artistically, hate to say it, but though I think Morgen’s team did amazing work with the visuals in the film I’d have been slightly more interested in more of Cobain’s unseen artwork and so forth. But that’s a minor quibble – I’m not very visual anyway.

The suggestion that the Super-Deluxe would be the only place one could acquire the full 31 tracks was genuinely upsetting. The idea of forcing people to purchase the DVD – that they would most likely already possess – in order to get at it was very wrong. With the ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ super-deluxe sets one was always getting more for one’s money but the most crucial new audio was available more conveniently. It seemed a guaranteed way to force people to download illegally. It seems that statement isn’t entirely true – which is positive.

The cassette. Ho hum. I buy cassettes. I’m buying a few things from Blank Editions at the moment (, when it comes to new music I find the cassette a very valid format. But if it’s available on CD or vinyl then I’ll just buy it that way. Having to get out my grandfather’s ol’ cassette player is pesky. I’d have bought the Super-Deluxe if the cassette contained anything not on the other formats – I’d have considered some kind of collage blending of elements from the film a legitimate ‘Super-Deluxe Only’ release that was both reasonable and worth finding.

So, ultimately, unlike the previous super-deluxe boxes, for the first time, I’m thinking I’ll only buy the 31 track edition of the music. I’ve got the DVD, I don’t want to buy it a second time. I don’t want a cassette that I’ll never play. The ‘Sappy/And I Love Her’ seven inch satisfies completists who are obsessed by format and it’s a very reasonable way of stirring additional interest and attention – great work! As a campaign this hangs together very nicely and I think it’s highly intelligent.

But, so far, with no additional component to justify the re-purchase of things I’ve already got, the super-deluxe is piled too high with ephemera, with irrelevance. Buy one visual format – get one you consider not worth it or already obsolete! Get the same music on cassette, vinyl, CD for no real reason! Get trinkets! I was ready to buy the box-set but this amassing of slightly purposeless mass-produced items, this repetition and recycling when it was a deliberate decision not to release all of this to the U.S. market already (and when I’m in the U.K. so already have everything bar the 31 tracks)…That’s why it feels exploitative. The true fans already got the book – they don’t need it again. The true fans saw the film and just want the DVD. The true fans wanna hear the music – f*** the jigsaw puzzle.

And, again, let me just say, I am hugely looking forward to the soundtrack. I am hugely impressed with the work Morgen and Universal have done this year to create a multi-platform, multi-format release that’s kept interest in Nirvana high for an entire year. I think the film is really good. I think the book is decent. I think rationing the music out rather than doing some ridiculous all-out thing (like that 18 disc Dylan set that’s coming) is precisely the way to keep the music alive and interesting.

People forget that if you get EVERYTHING, then the thing dies. Someone can die and their work lives on if there’s still something to discover and uncover. When one receives too much at once, stuff sits on the shelf, it becomes unimportant, it becomes boring to sift through and there’s no longer anything to look forward to. I’d rather wait. And every few years I’ll happily pay for someone to curate a selection for me. This isn’t exploitation, it’s what I pay a professional organisation for. Keep it coming!

…Just do me a favour and don’t make me pay for the same stuff twice over or more.

Courtesy of my friend and comrade JJ! A few shreds of Nirvana ’87 material apparently from the same session as Mrs Butterworth.

Apologies for absence of posts here this past month – been LOTS on!

Here’s a piece on Kim Gordon’s book I did for a new online culture mag just while I’m passing things on:

Releasing Kurt Cobain’s rough drafts and outtakes does no disservice to his legacy.

Jeff Burlingame wrote in Time on August 19, that the release of new material from or about Kurt Cobain should cease. His reason — that this is not what Cobain would have wanted — was a fair one which I respect…but don’t agree with.

What happens to dead musicians when there’s no more music and nothing new said of them? They’re forgotten. Their music dies. The lifeless repetition of greatest hits ultimately makes it impossible for existing fans to return to the music with fresh ears, or for new fans to feel excited discovering it. Their music becomes the audio equivalent of sun-bleached wallpaper; over-familiar background that we barely notice let alone view with any intensity.

In a beautiful eulogy at Cobain’s memorial, Krist Novoselic — Nirvana’s bassist and Cobain’s friend — spoke of Cobain’s ethos saying; “no band is special, no player royalty.” That’s why it’s so troubling when people take Cobain’s words as diktats to be obeyed two decades after his passing. Every time there’s a new Cobain release someone makes the claim that his image shouldn’t be taken in vain, or that his unreleased music should be kept locked away to maintain the sanctity of his back catalog. Creating a Gospel of Kurt, or converting his music and image into holy relics, reeks of a posthumous sainthood that’s as un-punk rock as it gets.

Asking “What Would Kurt Think?” only raises more questions. Do the views of Kurt Cobain the troubled teenager carry equal weight to those of Cobain the weary 27 year old? Is everything he said sacred? Is there nothing that can now be seen as immature, or only applicable within the context of his life? Dogmatizing his words then adopting them as our own means we pick-and-choose whatever we wish, illegitimately appropriating his status to justify our own personal wishes and intentions. It means we falsify Cobain; no one can truly know what such a contradictory and intriguing person would think of the world of 2015.

A further truth is you don’t have to care what Kurt Cobain might think — it’s your choice. When you first bought a Nirvana album you didn’t fill in an application form asking for his permission. Following an onstage breakdown in Rome in 1989, Cobain raved at one of the owners of Sub Pop, his record label, that his audiences were idiots. In 1992 he released a statement asking certain fans to “leave us the fuck alone!” Just as Cobain had every right to make such statements, fans had every right to ignore them. Buying someone’s music doesn’t provide them a veto over your personal morality or your enjoyment of said music.

No one expects an artist’s rough sketches to match their fully-realized works. Consider the slew of outtakes leaked in August 2015. The result, far from being a decline in respect for Cobain, was an outpouring of reaffirmed enthusiasm for the man and his work. One take of “Lithium” saw Cobain, voice near gone, barely able to croak the chorus. This humanized the man while revealing him as someone so titanically dedicated that even with half-a-voice he still pushed himself all the way in his desire to practice and perfect. This alternative version brought out idiosyncratically telling details invisible if all we had was the polished work on “Nevermind.”

Outtakes can reinvigorate well-worn songs. True, the Cobain of 1994 didn’t choose to release them. But back in 1992 he agreed to his record company’s request that Nirvana outtakes be stitched together to exploit Nirvana’s unexpected fame and the Christmas buying season. The high quality of the “Incesticide” compilation shouldn’t disguise that Cobain had no trouble with its commercially compromised purpose. He even named a 1992 song “Oh the Guilt,” a quotation taken from his “Journals” where he lamented the idea that he was meant to feel guilt for his success and burgeoning wealth.

It’s also unreasonable to expect that Cobain, who would now be in his late forties, would stand here in 2015, ignorant of and naïve about the commercial potential of outtakes — even the Beatles and Led Zeppelin have engaged in archive projects. The idea that Cobain was an austere purist who wouldn’t have joined with his bandmates in embracing the release of archive material if the opportunity arose seems illusionary.

The use of Cobain’s image and music is a matter worth vigilance. Cobain’s avatar chanting Bon Jovi songs in a game was disquieting — yet the result reenergized fans and reaffirmed their belief that Cobain remains more than just product. There’s a certain overwrought paternalism to claims that any use of Cobain’s music or image is predatory or that individuals need protecting from hearing music that isn’t ‘perfect.’ Such an argument underrates the general care that has been taken by his estate and over-privileges what is being consumed. It’s isn’t life-or-death, it’s just music, no matter how good. It’s hard to see the existential harm caused by letting those who wish to hear more exchange their cash to do so.

Ultimately I’m glad that posthumous sales of Cobain’s music have provided for his child, have helped fund Chad Channing’s excellent band Before Cars, have allowed Novoselic to pursue political interests. I’m more than happy to keep production plant workers, administrators, marketers and everyone else at a record label in work so they can feed their families.

And maybe it’s selfish, but it does thrill me whenever unheard recordings reignite that voice, that sound — it’s like encountering an old friend and finding the years haven’t dulled their energy. While Kurt Cobain chose to burn out, it would be our mistake if we let his last embers be buried in a record company vault and allowed to fade away in silent indifference.

Sure, if you’re a Nirvana fan then you’ll have caught this over the last few weeks. A nine minute long jam referred to as “E-Coli” leaked. I’ve been taking my time over this one, trying to soak it in and enjoy it gradually rather than rattling off something vast.

First though, did you catch the “Big Cheese” alternative take? Beautiful. It’s not particularly common to come across alternative takes of earlier Nirvana songs simply because the band didn’t have the cash to spend endless time in studio revising and tweaking. The take is from the Love Buzz/Big Cheese single sessions in mid-1988, it’s completely different to the first live version of Big Cheese from just a few months earlier, much closer to the final single version but retaining all sorts of curiosities and diversions. The structure isn’t quite as stripped down and simplified; the vocals incorporate all sorts of barks and wails (including one point which compares neatly to the squeal he makes on Blandest.) It reminds one that Cobain, in mid-1988, was only just coming out of a spell of writing the relatively twisted songs that had featured at the January 1988 session, that “Big Cheese” was one of the first songs to emerge after that spell and still – at first – was quite a rambling piece. The squealing and random vocal effects hark all the way back to what he did on Fecal Matter, to the helium-voice intro to “Beans”, to his apparent liking for the weirdo fringe of the Eighties’ punk scene like Butthole Surfers. This is a song in transition between the oddball side of his music and the slimmed down music he’d pour out on “Bleach” where the weirdness was confined mainly to his lyrics rather than to the muscular grunge tunes.

A slightly clearer version of “Do Re Mi” came out too, nothing much added or taken away – just nice to have a reason to listen to this great little song again in detail. Reviewing these outtakes always means I’m listening to a heightened degree but here it’s all pretty familiar and it – once again – stokes my curiosity regarding his decision to sing in this affected pitch. It has me looking back to the recent “Pennyroyal Tea” leak which was good evidence of Cobain’s love of making music, his desire to try things different ways until he had what he felt was best. Perhaps we’d have ended up with a “Do Re Mi” that sounded just like this, perhaps we’d have seen a more naturally toned version, perhaps there still are other experiments out there because it sounds too well-developed and too well-done for Cobain to have decided to attempt a falsetto in the moment. Ah, possibilities…

As for “E-Coli”, it’s a lurching song that sounds heavily improvised, very loosely structured at this point in time. It’s akin to some of Nirvana’s more jammed together tracks from around the time of Rio de Janeiro. The repetition of the central riff to such a heavy degree gives it a similarity to Scentless Apprentice and makes me think it’s very early stage – Cobain wasn’t much of one for mantra-like repetition for more than a curtailed four minutes. I was surprised when the tracks leaked earlier in August that “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol…” so clearly had a second guitar track added to something that sounded so off-the-cuff. Same here, I keep feeling there’s a second guitar at work but, again, the backing guitar sounds fairly unconsidered – more a noise-making element than a counter-rhythm or melody. Cobain’s voice sounds beat-up which, again, makes me feel this is a late 1992 rehearsal or a January in Brazil piece. Cobain does his “I have no lyrics yet” wailing and ad-libbing effort which I always rather enjoy even if it does show this is something early stage at best. I’ve been trying to think if it’s comparable to the improvisation Nirvana perform on the radio in Holland years earlier – this sounds more like a work up of potential song ideas than that piece though, that had a uniformity and a one note approach that really didn’t make it look like a song.

The Vinyl Factory invited me to whack together a few thoughts on Sunn O))). Heck, why wouldn’t I jump at the opportunity? Sunn O))) are glorious.

Every band has a window where they run the risk of repetition, of doing the same thing again. Evolution has to happen. Some bands break up. Others wind up releasing novelties – “oh, this is our dance-orientated album…” Many make changes to the environment surrounding the songs – new studio, different equipment, switch of producer. A lot just start sounding like they’re weary of it all, there’s no longer a pressure or a drive underscoring what they’re doing. There’s no perfect answer, these aren’t always irrelevant alterations, sometimes each option has or might rejuvenate an artist.

Sunn O))) have managed change. There’s always a reminder of their mastery over the groove they established over the releases from 1999-2003 whether that means a burst of savage slow power in the midst of a longer composition, or a song given over entirely to wrecking bowels and brains for ten minutes. Around that, however, Sunn O))) has been hugely open to new collaborators, to fresh experiments, to taking past models and refurbishing and reviving them. They’re an intelligent band not in the sense of wearing learning on the sleeves of their cowls, more in the sense that they seem to combine improvisation and on-the-spot experimentation with proper contemplation of how the elements of their sound might be rejigged, how other musicians and instruments can be integrated, how a release might carry a theme or vibe across an entire album…

What the hell. Enjoy.

This piece was suggested to me by the team at so credit to them for providing me with a fun idea and hopefully the result is a quality read.


A home isn’t a shell of wood, cement and brick. That’s just a house. Amid the functional blankness of unavoidable purchases — dead sofas, cutlery, toiletries — people cocoon themselves in treasured memories; that’s what makes a home. Mementoes record where we’ve been, certificates and trophies of one form or another capture what we’ve done, photos nod respectfully to the people with whom we’ve done it. We curate museums of self. What we value most will be hung on walls and placed atop units telling who we are, who we have been.

It’s more than a declaration of self. A home binds us to our tribes. The living and the dead comingle in our belongings, we preserve them, give life to them, honor them. We open that door not just to friends, family, acquaintances. Memorabilia is a mark of gratitude thanking those we might never have met but who — through their works — gave us comfort, color, inspiration. We pledge allegiance by adding physical markers of their lives to ours so no one can tell our stories without acknowledging theirs. Memorabilia says someone or something mattered.

Though I’m not a rich man, I’m tempted. A friend of mine says he’ll accept $7,500 to $10,000 dollars for it. Plastic casing at least twenty-seven years old, not too battered for being not much shy of my age and twenty-seven is a sacred number in this context . A handwritten chunk of card roughly twelve centimeters wide and maybe a little longer. I imagine the cassette weighs a hundred grams. I used to patiently re-spool cassettes just as unremarkable as this using a pencil to feed the magnetic tape and the tip of a finger to screw-drive the reel one turn at a time.

I’ve never valued picture discs, limited editions, numbered copies, or any of the other sleights of hand used by canny businesses to confer preciousness on industrial end-products. If the music isn’t worth it, I don’t want it. I clear out records that leave me cold or that I never feel like playing. But downloads are too slight a thing to be satisfying. They strip sound of worth, reduce it to anonymity, to musical wallpaper and corporate filename formats. I want the commitment that comes with an object given shelf space even if I don’t fetishize plastic, paper, vinyl.

Human connection invigorated these objects; handicraft kindles value for me in extinguished substances. A CD-R with a Xeroxed cover bought from Dylan Nyoukis at a gig in Brighton. John Lydon’s memoir hand-signed then embossed at the 100 Club. Woodblock covers for Michael Gira’s home recordings. The Fire Ants’ only single sent as a thank you from Ed Dekema for writing the band’s oral history for their new reissue. A polaroid from Marcus Gray’s Parasite project. The Blood Circus t-shirt Geoff Robinson sent. A lathe-cut 7” of a Dumb Numbers’ song.

And this tape…I’ll play it two times and the second someone else will have to do it for me. It’s Nirvana’s first studio session on a cassette Kurt Cobain dubbed off by hand in early 1988 as a gift for a friend of his I’m now happy to call a friend of mine. It’s the only item of music memorabilia I’ve ever thought of owning. A tape a twenty-one year old pauper boy copied back before his band meant anything at all to the world. I’d be too afraid to play it more than twice.

I’ll never have been so scared as on that first occasion. I’ll be praying; “Allah, please, don’t let my grandfather’s old tape-deck fuck it all to hell.” Electric skin and cold sweats expecting to hear the tinfoil crinkling of a mashed tape at any moment. If it breaks there’s no replacement; Cobain handed out other tapes but I’ll never come near another one. It’s handmade aspects mean another one still wouldn’t be this one. From beginning-to-end, though I know ever note, every nerve in my body will be set shaking like crystal, a never-felt intensity arising from pure fear that this might all go wrong at any moment and it might become just a hundred grams of trash.

The second time, I’ll be in a hospital or, if I’m lucky, my own home. It’s the best any of us can hope for; that we have a chance to pause and say goodbye when the end is coming on strong. I hope I’m not alone. I’ll ask someone to take the cassette out of the transparent reinforced fireproof security box I’ve had welded to the floor. I’ll ask them to put it on for me. And I’ll smile because it’s so silly — who the hell else’ll care about a guy who died some sixty years back in another century? Do you cry for the music-hall stars of the 1890s? But I’ll welcome the comfort of music I’ve lived with since age thirteen played on a tape that’s as close as I’ll ever come to shaking the man’s hand and thanking him for making music that made my life better.

I don’t think it’s too much money. If I can scrape it together I’ll be delighted to make that much of a difference to my friend’s life. The tape’ll look so incongruous sat in the middle of my home, so nondescript, a monumental nothing appealing to my sense of humor. I’ll rest it on the rare Nirvana CD single kind people in Tacoma gave to me and signed their names on. Cobain’s tape’ll be surrounded by memory of one friend, the names of half-a-dozen others — I like the idea of their writing being as precious as his, a gathering of people he knew or would have liked.

There’ll be no re-sale value once memory of Cobain fades. There’ll be an ever-shrinking cluster of aging collectors I’ll find it too much trouble to track down and I can’t imagine museums shelling out for a 1988 tape in 2050. There’s the absurdity of buying something just because it passed through the hands of someone I admire; something I can’t play or use, that’ll I’ll need to buy protection for. If I don’t take pleasure in the ridiculousness of it I’ll talk myself out of it.

I know already the day after the purchase it’ll feel too small a thing and I’ll wonder at all the things I could have done with that kind of money. I’ll have overpaid because I’m buying from a friend and turning it over in my hands I’ll feel a bit silly. It’s a just a thing I’ll tell myself. It’s just a possession…But that word will make the difference. Someday when my body has turned traitor I’ll draw strength from the ghosts inhabiting the things around me because that’s what they’re there for. They’re spirit totems stored up to carry us through dark times…

…And I’ll remember that the money and the silliness don’t matter; they’re just cause to smile. I’ll recall the one hour I sat, face pale, composure like porcelain balanced precariously on a table edge — that time when I never listened to music so intensely. And I’ll know this tape will play me out of the world paying my respects to an epiphany at age thirteen; to personal glories in my mid-thirties; to friends and memories and all my ghosts. And I’ll hold the hand of someone I love and the tape won’t matter anymore, it’ll just be people. And love. And it all won’t matter.

I’m pausing to take in the breadth of what’s just happened. “(Sound City) Sappy”, one of those holy grail songs fans have wondered about for years and likely the last real rarity from the Nevermind sessions out. Unheard material from four Nirvana studio sessions in 1990, 1991 and 1993 out. Home demos from 1990 out. The complete Easter 1986 Fecal Matter tape out…

Discovering that the remaining studio pieces by ‘Nirvana’ are curios but not substantially different from known renditions is unsurprising. The Nevermind material had been heavily worked up and practiced before hitting the studio. The big surprises have been the two versions of the underexposed “Old Age”, plus “Sappy.” I’d be curious to hear if Nevermind songs currently unseen prior to 1991 went through in-studio changes too. The In Utero album consisted of a lot of very old and well-worked material, a bunch of material worked up over several months, then some semi-ad-libbed newer ideas kicked out in Rio. It surprised me, frankly, that the “Heart Shaped Box” instrumental should be among the most intriguing which potentially shows it was still a ‘young’ song in many ways, one that was still evolving in small ways. I’d love to hear more of the evolution of “Serve the Servants” because as far as can be told it’s one of the strongest late-era Cobain compositions.

Filling in the gaps on Fecal Matter gave me a far greater appreciation of it as a complete work. There’s so much going on! Cobain, in 1986, had pent-up ideas flying in all directions it seems. Being with Dale Crover definitely helped him let loose the inner freak. Hearing the clean riffs at the end aided my appreciation of what he’s playing. Hearing improved/tweaked versions of what I’ve already heard is neat but fundamentally altered material of this nature is far more revelatory and enjoyable.

Which brings me to the home demos. Some of this matches what we heard earlier this year on the “Montage of Heck” film…Great! This stuff is quality. I’ve been dampening my expectations of what a mass of Cobain home demo material might truly mean in terms of quality and interest but this is glorious stuff. There’s are a variety of vocal and instrumental approaches which vary significantly from official releases. The presence of background noises and sound effects as intentional additions to songs elevate this beyond being just a clot of acoustic meandering. The sound quality is exceptionally good compared to what might be expected, there’s real clarity to his voice and playing. There are unseen lyrics and rarely seen songs here which keeps the interest level high…It’s totally whetted my appetite for whatever emerges from Universal in November (oh yeah, forgot, it’s been confirmed that the Cobain release will be in November.)

A further point, these leftovers help make the case for Cobain as a true artist. They’re not revealing a guy just hammering out identikit songs to churn onto albums. What they show is a guy who would have an idea and genuinely play with all its elements to see if a different vocal inflection or delivery might create something fresh, who wanted to hear the sounds in his head in different ways before selecting what the definitive statement would be. That depth of intuitive and intelligent work is, I feel, underappreciated in discussion of Cobain.

Song by song thoughts?

“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” Completely different lyrics it seems! The riff is instantly recognisable and unchanged from what you’ll already know.

“Opinion” Though brief at only 13 seconds, this is a far fuller-voiced and brighter rendition than the solitary radio take – the home demo treatment actually improving fidelity for once. There are nuances in Cobain’s delivery – note the stresses he adds within the word ‘congratulations’ – plus he seems to speed up quite quickly which might be an error but it gives the song more force. “Opinion” is interesting because it’s one of the final known and seemingly fully formed Cobain compositions from 1990-1992 that doesn’t end up being released during his life time. I love the song, it’s really easy to sing. The background sound of a storm sounds artificially inserted rather than a suggestion that he was recording during an actual event.

“Pennyroyal Tea” is a full 2.34 rendition featuring the glorious line “I receive crazy moneyyyyyy…” as part of the second chorus – sheesh, a truly bad Cobain line? That’s kinda rare! The guy is usually so lyrically sharp when it comes to make lines sound intelligent, purposeful and intended. The vocal delivery in a lower octave isn’t necessarily superior to what he chooses to do at Pachyderm or on MTV Unplugged, but it’s a legitimate artistic deviation that creates a pleasantly somnolent vibe. It appears to feature someone else on rudimentary drumming, it may be Dave Grohl’s voice early on. What sounds like a click track seems more likely to be an improvised drum stick of some kind. Cobain uses his breathing to create the ‘finale’ to the track.

“Sappy” this is clearly from Montage of Heck, the atmospheric repetition of the guitar line over something approaching a John Carpenter-eerie selection of sound effects. Maybe someday we’ll hear more of Cobain’s experimental urges which were extensive and are still underappreciated even with the Montage of Heck collage and Fecal Matter now on display.

“Verse Chorus Verse” is a full three and a half minute rendition with a combination of known and unknown lines – it’s intriguing seeing them evolve actually. “See the…In his hands…Keep the sunbeam in his room…Keep it in him…Seeds…What it means…” This has always been an intriguing song because extant versions on the early Outcesticide bootlegs were noisy enough to leave the lyrics in doubt. This continues that picture of a song undergoing a lot of changes. The structure seems solid if not exactly the most inspired and wild approach, it’s like this is one of the songs where Cobain was getting used to making peace with the simplest of pop song methodologies, it truly earns its name.

“Been a Son” this, is the copy from Montage of Heck where he stops to answer the phone to someone apparently asking after Tracy. Intriguingly, this is the most altered the lyrics have ever been but that core “she said” refrain is already there even with a song sounding this frayed. I love hearing him lay out the bass part – I was aware Cobain did come up with ideas for the other instruments on his songs, actually played thoughts to his bandmates for them to run with, but it’s uncommon to hear him do it on a recording. I think this is the only time I’ve heard Cobain laying down an intended bass part.

“Breed”, another 15 second scrap from Montage of Heck, with the same breathiness as the “Been a Son” take above which gives the distinct impression these two songs at least are recorded at the same time and place. The absence of any substantial shift in sound is curious, makes one imagine he simply sat and filled a tape with one idea after another…I wonder if there was more, a fuller rendition of gasped Cobain homework. It’s like even on acoustic he’s finding a way, by manipulating his voice, to indicate where he’d be screamed in a full rock electric rendition of this song and “Been a Son”, that it isn’t just an odd vocal choice, it’s almost a ‘note to self’ about what he intends to do with those lines or parts.

Oh! Forgot again… A new demo of “Very Ape” with totally sketchy lyrics! Nirvana are so tight instrumentally they make this stuff sound like it’s exactly as it’s meant to be. Cobain is indistinctly murmuring in places of verses and there’s no vocal at all on the choruses. “There’s a ____ (God / Girl?) I dare to _____, there’s a ____ (God / Girl?) I dare to know…”

So, summarising this week, we’ve heard:

Acoustic demos of Been a Son, Breed, Frances Farmer, Opinion, Pennyroyal Tea, Verse Chorus Verse plus a Sappy electric demo

Studio demos of Very Ape, Heart Shaped Box, Lithium, Milk It, Old Age (x2), Gallons, Onwards into Countless Battles, Polly, Sappy, Scentless Apprentice, Seasons in the Sun, Tourette’s, Verse Chorus Verse, I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, Here She Comes Now plus I’ve heard tell there are renditions of Come as You Are and MV floating around

Then, from Fecal Matter, Sound of Dentage, Bambi Slaughter, Laminated Effect, Anorexorcist, Spank Thru, Blathers Log, Class of ’86, Downer, Instramental, the riffs, plus unknown songs 1 to 5.

Jeez…Even if the brevity of today’s acoustic leaks indicated that this week’s source is drying up it’s still been one hell of a week. The huge presence of lesser known Nirvana/Cobain songs is really welcome. Noticeable that there were no utterly unknown acoustic demos – more in the can still to be detected? Or not much from 1990-1992 that Cobain didn’t use around Nevermind or have to press into service to cover his paucity of writing after fame hit?