Archive for the ‘Unreleased n’ Posthumous Nirvana’ Category

There’s a kneejerk tendency among certain groups of Nirvana fans to cuss the name of Courtney Love. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that I don’t share that inclination. Why? Well, essentially, as someone wishing to hear more of the musical works of Kurt Cobain, as someone wishing to see more of his wider artistic efforts – Courtney Love is the keeper of the keys to the vault. I don’t feel she’s been any more or less a good custodian than Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, Universal – nor do I feel in a position to criticise given I don’t possess, nor do I know anyone who possesses, experience of the intricate process of managing the legacy of an individual across decades.

The involvement of Courtney Love and Frances Bean Cobain in Brett Morgen’s film should be a source of encouragement for those hoping for the chance to hear more of Cobain’s work. The crucial point is to differentiate between NIRVANA’s work and COBAIN’s work. Nirvana was a group entity that interpreted and enacted Cobain’s creative will. The data on record regarding their studio sessions indicates there’s a bare handful of songs as yet unreleased, entirely other takes of songs we’ve already heard. From a very early stage in the posthumous process they were forced to dig into non-studio rehearsal tapes and boombox work without emerging with many true revelations; a jam here, an unreleased instrumental there, sketch songs lightly buttered over the top. Krist Novoselic’s past comment on the paucity of unheard Nirvana material seems accurate to me – the group released the vast majority of what it recorded. Nirvana were deeply economical when in studio; it was rare they even laid down b-side material at the same session as their album. In the early years it was simply because they couldn’t afford extensive recording sessions, the later years, meanwhile, were such a rush that there was barely time to record. While there’s undoubtedly still a pool of other mixes, other versions, slightly tweaked efforts of known songs sitting around somewhere – there’s been nothing since 2004 to dispel the notion that the cupboard is bare of any fresh You Know You’re Right moment.

The next potential source of truly unheard material would be to head toward Cobain’s juvenilia. Sure, the Fecal Matter tapes have now secured a legendary status, but then there’s still whatever earlier teenage sketches remain buried, plus anything laid down on tape prior to the commencement of the first recognisable iteration of Nirvana in late 1986. The turnover of Nirvana songs in these early years was remarkable – Cobain was prolific, the Easter 1986 recording of Fecal Matter carried over barely a song and a half to the earliest known efforts of ‘Nirvana’, then the January 1988 sessions gave way to an almost entirely different selection of songs by December 1988 when Bleach was recorded. That’s rapid work, a dozen songs at a time introduced and dispensed with. Depending on whether that apparent pace was in effect prior to Easter 1986, there’s potentially more to be seen there. Depending on how many ideas didn’t make it to Nirvana sessions maybe there’s more from 1987-1988 too. After that I doubt there’s much going sketched but unrecorded.

This is where the Courtney Love factor comes into play. While Nirvana, as a group, barely created any new music between 1992-1994, it’s unclear the extent to which Kurt Cobain did or did not continue to prepare private material. It’s also uncertain to what extent he recorded privately with Courtney. These are the primary sources from whence unfamiliar and unknown material could conceivably emerge. During the two-and-a-half years of Cobain’s fame he spent barely thirty days in the studio with Novoselic and Grohl including the abandoned April 1992 sessions, abandoned October sessions, one week playing at Pachyderm Studios for In Utero then one week mixing, only turning up for one day in January 1994…And between February 1992 and October 1993 he was barely ever on a stage…This guy was at home (or wherever he happened to be living at the time) and it’s the home recordings that could potentially indicate whether those years were ones in which he continued expressing musically, or whether he moved away from music toward video, art, family and unconsciousness. I don’t know the answer. But I do feel I expect more ‘new’ to come from Courtney than from something like the rumoured ‘Bathtub is Real’ tape recorded with Tobi Vail. While I’d be intrigued to hear what’s there I suspect no more than sketches of Nevermind-era songs.

Does that mean I’m forecasting some weighty quantity of well-drawn acoustic pieces? Some kinda Nick Drake style reassessment of Cobain’s abilities with an acoustic guitar? Nope. Let’s be fair, Cobain was disinterested in, and dismissive of, sophisticated instrumental technique – I expect the endearing and appealing sloppiness he often exhibited live (or on the existing home demos from 2004’s With the Lights Out) to be to the fore. Similarly, do I expect him to be blowing his vocal cords out when playing at home in a closet? Nope, the pieces seen so far are far more restrained – but, again, that isn’t a bad thing, just different. I’d suspect much of what exists will be unstructured, not really worked up given how much of Nirvana’s In Utero work in Rio and Pachyderm stemmed from thin ideas around which the band ad-libbed and jammed up some real quality. As stated earlier, Nirvana were economical in studio and I believe that’s reflective of Cobain’s general approach – don’t polish and re-polish a piece in private unless it’s intended to go somewhere. Given how short on songs the band were by the end of 1992/start of 1993 I’d be surprised if he had much in his back pocket that he wasn’t placing on the table for Nirvana’s full band consideration. That draws the eye to the post-In Utero era, again, it’ll be curious to hear what occurred in that final year…But there’s not much time for miracles with October-December plus February spent on tour. Let’s see shall we? Courtney has the keys…She was there.

Wondered how everyone was feeling about their Nirvana In Utero deluxe and super-deluxe editions now there’s been time for it to soak in?

In the run-up I was pretty contented – some material I’d never heard, a potentially intriguing remix job, the Litt/Albini originals of a few pieces, the one surprise instrumental from a rehearsal, the bonus footage pieces. I’m very much on the glass half-full side of things, especially given I know it was feeding a hole that can never be filled meaning that anything that emerges was, and is, welcomed and appreciated.

At this point…Well, I’d still rate myself satisfied – the remastering was perfectly decent and I see no great reasons for anyone to complain about the slight ‘pumping up’ of the original album, the remix had a few points of intrigue, the bonuses made sense and Live and Loud is still a quality performance – love the long outro…More of this kinda chaos please!

But. On the other hand, I admit the randomness of including certain instrumentals and not others, of including certain early takes and not others…That definitely grates on me. When all the additional material is filler for fanatics hearing that someone somewhere has decided that certain material is ‘even more filler than other filler’ and that I’d definitely not want to hear it…It’s just irksome. I’m trying my best to think of it as the equivalent of the hierarchy of eBay, then second hand and charity shops, then finally bric-a-brac stores and carboot sales – that there are differing levels among pieces someone gets rid of but still…Unless an outtake is unavailable or genuinely wrecked I’ve no idea why one outtake should be deemed of any greater value than another.

Also, the 2013 remix did disappoint – I was hoping to hear far more wrenching changes to a greater number of songs. Instead, a few peaks do stand out but too few to fundamentally alter my listening experience or to distinguish the remix greatly from the original album. I’ve tried it with headphones, I’ve tried it with the original album playing alongside…Ultimately I think one problem may be that an exercise like this being in the hands of music producers/engineers fails to recognise the difference between the aural depth heard by those experts versus what might be distinguishable to an untrained individual who can’t isolate the audio tracks and doesn’t have such sensitive hearing. I was hoping for more. I’d have been more than happy, as an experiment, to hear them drop out backing, chop vocals, restructure songs…Isn’t it funny? I’m happy to consider sacrilege so long as it made for something fresh!

Ultimately there’s a touch of realisation to the whole experience, for me. The reason that there are not many deep cuts or intriguing diversions on the release is simply because that absence is a realistic portrait of what was going on in terms of Nirvana in the 1992-1993 period. Nirvana entered the studio in October 1992 and did barely one day’s work, they managed at most two days playing together as a band in January 1993, then in February they hammered out the album and all additional takes and so forth in, at most, a single week. This wasn’t a band taking time to evolve, develop or experiment with their songs – they were walking in, hammering out takes, then heading home where Cobain might work on something to order the band to do next time they got together. The compilers of the In Utero twentieth anniversary releases had the unenviable task of fleshing out a mildly depressing period of time for Nirvana and I feel they did so subtly (for example, the pieces in the Super-Deluxe book that emphasise the business and product aspects of an album) and accurately (in terms of the overall paucity of revelations or substantially different material.)

It does make me wonder though, whether Courtney Love has plans for the remaining tapes of Cobain demos given there have now been several occasions between 2009 and 2013 for further use to be made of whatever remains in that archive. On the one hand it makes me think that the rift opened way back in the early 2000s has never even reached the point at which she’s involved in any of the anniversary releases. On the other, it still lends me hope that there’s more to be made of material from her side of things – material that isn’t sitting with the label, or with Krist and Dave, or in the bands of Nirvana’s various producers.

That’s what I feel fans really have to look forward to; more Cobain material, a lot less Nirvana releases of real note.

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I keep trying to judge if I’m getting away from my initial decisions about this blog; essentially I don’t have any desire to share myself and my world with the universe — though I’ve enjoyed very much sharing more back-and-forth with a cluster of fellow fans who have taken the time to wave my way and share their own enthusiasms. When I started this blog I decided (a) no personal stuff (b) focus on Nirvana, simple as that (c) no petty personal ‘reviews’ of releases that are simply a personal aesthetic commentary and could as easily be rendered on Amazon or someplace (d) stick to analysis, stick to segmenting and sorting information. So that’s what goes through my head and influences how I end up writing about topics. Today’s post drips over the line into personal, circles around (b), tries to avoid being (c) and barely touches (d.)

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Anyways, yes, back home but not finished writing up the excursion to the Pacific North-West yet — I’ll get on with the next piece tomorrow. Today I wanted to take a moment for the In Utero Twentieth Anniversary release; I mean, heck, it genuinely is a Christmas reminder for me; that cassette at the front? That’s my 1993 Christmas present from mum and dad. And the CD alongside it? That’s the 1995 gift from my aunt and the first CD anyone else ever bought me (my first ever CD purchase was a month or so earlier when I bought the Nirvana singles box-set.) The In Utero album, on a personal level, has a significantly festive vibe to it.

I admit, of course, that overall what makes Nirvana special for me is that it’s a remnant of my childhood and that direct-plug-in back to my thirteen/fourteen year old self. This allows me to easily fall back into the kind of tensely excited ‘waiting for miracles’ that used to accompany birthdays, Christmas, trips to the chip shop on a Saturday or down town with pocket-money (I like to think I was an enthusiastic kid and readily entertained and amused.) This proviso is offered to explain why I worked from home the other day so I could more or less hang out of the window and await the delivery truck. Gods it was a long day. Thank God the plumbers arrived so I could tell myself I wasn’t just running downstairs to check the front door mat. It made me hyper-aware of noise in the neighbourhood today; every time I recognised the purr of a van heading down the street I was there peering out, each motorbike murmuring by had me straining to see if it was heading this way. And then! Suddenly! A van pulled up, a delivery guy got out, he opened the back doors of the van…
…And he was getting out a vacuum cleaner for some bloke down the street. Darn.

Anyways, after a very long day exhibiting my comprehensive gift for patience (re: I have no patience whatsoever, I’m no good at delayed gratification whatsoever), finally it got here just before 7pm. Heck, I even washed my hands before opening the package so now I feel bad about my fetishisation of the product too.

Any comment on the booklet/brochure? It’s a nice item like all these artistically done box-sets tend to be and in terms of its content there are a few points that stuck out for me. Firstly, the inclusion of the studio bill and, more so, of the scribbled sheet explaining the PR plans for the release acknowledge the way in which an album is one expression of an overall master-plan of activities and separate deliverables designed to deliver a business plan and ultimately sales. Wedging these items into a commemorative package celebrating In Utero breaks the focus on it as purely an artistic or personal statement and starkly declares the corporate, commercial reality of the album — this isn’t just a work of art, it’s simultaneously just another product. While that might seem a sad or a grim decision to take I’d argue it has a Cobainesque quality to it; it’s a posthumous echo of his plans for an album called Sheep; it’s as blunt as his Radio Friendly Unit Shifter title — the man at the centre of all this was decisively aware of these currents to what he was doing and whoever designed the Super-Deluxe box-set was sharp enough to integrate that disquieting element here.

The other comment on the brochure is the acknowledgement of Pat Smear’s elevation to full band member. I don’t remember his presence as tour guitarist being so thoroughly open and declared as it is these days at twenty years distance. Again, at first, I wondered whether including him in the line-up of band member photos in the brochure made sense given this album is a pre-Smear product. But, then again, this isn’t In Utero — this is an expanded package at twenty years distance and he’s a presence on the entire DVD element and the accompanying CD version of Live and Loud. He’s a legitimate presence on something that is fundamentally a 2013 item not to be confused or considered synonymous with the 1993 album that ‘inspired’ it and led to this thorough re-rendering.

Anyways, no comment on the songs, everyone will make up their own mind on the remixes and remasterings and demo-worthiness and so on and so forth. I admit I find the 2013 mix a fascinating concept; I’m usually suspicious of remixes because they reek of posthumous tinkering and artificiality. The exercise of inserting material recorded at the time but excluded, switching valid takes for others, that somehow seems to have more legitimacy and a value because what’s being delivered is more original music by the original band — not producer mix effects and not post-hoc material. In a small declaration, while Jack Endino was chatting at breakfast the other week he did say that Michael Meisel who was working on this for Universal, was really pleased to hear that some scrap of vocals was available on the January 1991 take of All Apologies – that made a decisive difference to whether it was included or not apparently, they wanted Kurt’s voice included where possible. In terms of the recording unfortunately, the original masters are lost and so what’s being worked with is a version the band asked for so that they could hear the songs as close to instrumentally as possible so they could examine the music – hence why Cobain’s vocals are pushed down so low. Just a little detail which I think it’s cool to mention at this point.

My big decision was whether to do what I did in 2004 and just listen to two songs a night or just to give up the ghost on that idea and swallow it whole…I’ll let people go find all the reviews online, there are tonnes – Pitchfork says great, another one says the package is just silly, others say the original album is great but they’re not sure about this or that element, what the heck, can’t please anyone. I’m still sitting here thinking its Christmas and that’s good enough for me. Thank you to whomsoever made it happen.

The nicest thing about this In Utero release is that they’re doing a lovely job beating my expectations everytime new information emerges, it’s a lovely build-up to the actual release next month!

Rolling Stone have put up the full track-listing:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/inside-nirvanas-rarities-packed-in-utero-reissue-20130813

I’m looking back over the prediction from last week and gosh, it seems the version of Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle is the Laundry Room Studios version, lovely! Nice to see that.

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The more exciting news for rare Nirvana song hounds, the latest information is that the ‘Forgotten Tune’ is an unreleased and genuinely unheard rehearsal session track from 1993. Now, OK, the fact it was never proceeded with, the fact they didn’t even remember it existed until recently doesn’t suggest You Know You’re Right or even Mrs Butterworth levels of genius…But to still be surprised twenty years after the fact? That’s a warm and fuzzy feeling for me. I’d still like to hear Lullaby someday, or settle the Song in D discussion, or hear the Sound City Sappy…But heck, something more from Nirvana’s late-era? I’ll take it! It’s doubly significant simply because so little is left dated after the early 1993 spell of creations.

The real boost is from the addition of the Live n’ Loud tracklisting for the DVD, the CD is purely the performance but the DVD has more than delivered on desires:

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The Live n’ Loud rehearsals are a neat piece of unheard material, the Paris TV performance is a worthy addition and hopefully in better quality than I’ve been watching for years, one of the songs from Italian TV is a welcome presence (shame not to take the full performance but what the hell) and finally, the real surprise was the willingness to use the footage from the March 1, 1994 performance in Munich. Nice to see the rendition of My Best Friend’s Girl rather than just having the audio on bootleg.

So, that’s it – a final count up of 89 tracks when the 12 bonus DVD selections are included – of course the next hunt will be for Easter Eggs but we’ll get to that whenever information arises. Anyways, as ever, for the most up-to-date round-up join the Forum at LiveNirvana, virtually round-the-clock coverage and far more than one human being could ever do.

On that forgotten track issue, its bittersweet as with most moments of a long gone band, it’s lovely there are still surprises…But, the fact that its likely to be an instrumental of, at best, moderate sound quality is just the way the future is likely to be. That’s no reason to be saddened, no point being upset by reality – the cupboard is bare. And I’ll still be thrilled to hear whatever else is still to emerge from it. Years of bootleg listening and a taste for the noise scene has given me a high tolerance of static and hiss. More please! Bring on the Nirvana boombox boxset!

A massive merci to Laurent Beck over at LiveNirvana (and a shoutout to the ever readable and engaging Mr. Adrian Karlson) for hunting down the post on Amazon.fr listing out what is likely to be (though not as yet confirmed to be) the track listing for the Nirvana In Utero Twentieth Anniversary Super-Deluxe. Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.fr/In-Utero-Anniversary-Super-Deluxe/dp/B00DXP0QV2/ref=dp_return_2?ie=UTF8&n=301062&s=music

And here we go – note it doesn’t yet list the tracklisting of Live n’ Loud let alone the bonus DVD content – Disc One first:

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You’ll note that where it says All Apologies/Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip twice over what I ‘think’ it means is track 12 All Apologies, track 13 Gallons… And now for Disc Two:

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Now…You may notice a few oddities here, interesting huh? OK, All Apologies was not demo’ed in either October 1992 or January 1993 as far as is known thus making the January 1991 rendition the main known source…Though this does leave the door open to finding out that this is indeed the long rumoured ‘Song in D’ from the Nevermind sessions of 1991. We’ll see, I believe the former, I’d be fascinated by the latter.

Scentless Apprentice has been confirmed as coming from January 1993 while Very Ape wasn’t demo’ed until Rio in January making that a relatively easy judgment unless there’s an error in LiveNirvana’s so far flawless records. The five instrumentals from October 1992 were confirmed last week also so that’s an easy selection.

You’ll have noted that the slightly eccentric order in which the demos are positioned deliberately mimics the positioning of songs on the In Utero album thus ‘side A’ Scentless, Frances, Dumb then ‘side B’ Very Ape, Pennyroyal, RFUS, Tourette’s…Oh. Note the gap? Suddenly the listing diverts to Marigold then to All Apologies. This may be simply laziness or it may indicate that we’re looking at the early draft of All Apologies which is so different as to barely be recognisable as the same song, prior to the two oddities at the end.

Jam is, I’d assume, the jam from October 1992…But there’s no proof. Likewise, forgotten tune isn’t the same as ‘forgotten song’ so I’m not expecting a fully fledged You Know You’re Right moment, I’m expecting that either this is ‘The Other Improv’ again (much though I love it, God forbid) or this is Lullaby from February 1993…Or I’m completely clueless. It could also be that, remembering the attention to song order, we’re looking at Marigold (1990), All Apologies (Jan 1991), Song in D (mid-1991) then Jam (1992). Nice to know there’s some mystery left here…

Anyways, so, next count up:
Disc 1: 13 track original album, plus Marigold, MV, I Hate Myself & I Want to Die, Verse Chorus Verse (Sappy), plus different takes of Pennyroyal Tea, Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies – 20 tracks
Disc 2: 12 track original album, plus Scentless and Very Ape from Rio, 1990 Marigold, Word of Mouth instrumentals x 5, plus All Apologies (1991?) plus two unknowns = 23
Live n’ Loud: 17 tracks times two = 34, plus a clutch of bonus video footage
Total: a magisterial and impressive SEVENTY SEVEN
…And that’s even before we get to the bonus DVD footage. Time for plenty of smileys methinks. It’s getting better alllllll the time!

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This is the actual summary from Mojo of the 20th Anniversary In Utero box-set (bought a copy at Waterloo Station last night). It actually lists five instrumentals, not the four believed the other day. That makes a tiny difference to the summary I suggested yesterday:

Disc 1: 13 track original album, plus Marigold, MV, I Hate Myself & I Want to Die, Verse Chorus Verse (Sappy) = 17
Disc 2: 13 track original album, plus SA from Rio, 1990 Marigold, Word of Mouth instrumentals x 4, plus Very Ape from…? = 20
Live n’ Loud: 17 tracks times two = 34, plus a clutch of bonus video footage
Total: 71 plus the bonus video material

That one addition reduces the chances even further of the January 1991 demos of All Apologies and Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, of Sound City Sappy (always a forelorn hope) or the missing and vaguely described Song in D, of the April 1993 Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, of the January 1993 covers of Seasons in the Sun and Onwards into Countless Battles and of either the full October 1992 jam or the February 1993 piece known as Lullaby.

Ah well! Still nice. Curious to see what the fresh mix of In Utero sounds like…I can’t get rid of my original CD of In Utero once I get this simply because it’s the second CD I ever owned (a gift from my aunt at Christmas), the first being the Nirvana Singles boxset I bought in November 1995 before I even had a CD player – God bless my parents for deciding to correct that.

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20130730005311/en/Nirvana-Utero-20th-Anniversary-Multi-Format-Reissue-September

http://www.mojo4music.com/3679/nirvana-exclusive-in-utero-at-20/

And for the record, give up on checking http://www.nirvana.com, it’s the most underused website online – just go to the Facebook page and/or join LiveNirvana because the guys there are stunningly well informed.

The crucial lines for me are, of course, “70 remastered, remixed, rare, unreleased and live recordings” plus “3-CD/1-DVD” and the nice teaser of “never-before-released bonus performances” – all due out on September 24, 2013. Nice…Nice…

What to expect? Well, getting the easy bit out of the way, MTV Live n’ Loud in DVD and audio…So that’s the following songs:

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, Drain You, Breed, Serve The Servants, Rape Me, Sliver, Pennyroyal Tea, Scentless Apprentice, All Apologies, Heart-Shaped Box, Blew, The Man Who Sold The World, School, Come As You Are, Lithium, About A Girl, then my favourite bit, the sprawling Endless, Nameless jam section.

That’s 17 songs…Double counted? I suspect so. 34 songs out of 70.

First disc is pretty obvious, the whole of In Utero’s 13 tracks, plus Marigold, MV, I Hate Myself & I Want to Die, Verse Chorus Verse (Sappy) – 51 songs…That leaves 19 to debate. Let’s add on the Albini originals of Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies, plus the Scott Litt mix of Pennyroyal Tea – 16 to go.

The Mojo article fills in a few more gaps; Scentless Apprentice from Rio de Janeiro, the original Dave Grohl demo of Marigold from 1990, four instrumentals (Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, Frances Farmer will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, Dumb and Tourettes) all from the October 1992 Word of Mouth sessions (seems that the Rape Me instrumental is either not there or was skipped off the list)…Ten songs left. Oh, I’ll leave aside what the bonus tracks are on the DVD…Not a clue.

I’ll leave it there – I’m actually pretty pleased by the sounds of this. I love the Endless Nameless section of Live n’ Loud and the inclusion of that set was a given. I’d be delighted to have Albini’s remix plus top quality editions of some of the stuff I’ve had on a bootleg a long time. The instrumentals makes me very happy and frankly I don’t think one can ever have enough of the early messier versions of Scentless Apprentice (I think the live feedback version from Brazil ’93 is wicked, likewise the take on With the Lights Out)…

I think we’ll see the instrumental of Rape Me from October 1992 plus the jam from that session which was previously seen in part on the WTLO DVD (great!) If the eight remaining songs contained the audio of Onwards into Countless Battles and Seasons in the Sun from Rio, plus that shred from February known as lullaby, maybe the earlier Laundry Room instrumental of Frances Farmer – neat. For completeness I’d ask for the January 1991 takes of All Apologies and Radio Friendly Unit Shifter – everyone knows by now that Sound City Sappy is never emerging but I’ll cross my fingers again here. More?

Heck, if I wanted to lose my mind then sure I’d say the ‘Song in D’ Sound City take. I’d lump on the July 1993 attempts to do an acoustic rendition of Heart Shaped Box too!

Ultimately, I won’t be greedy. It’s hard to resist, as a collector, the desire to pile in every take of everything – heck, I’m still listening to that massive Stooges boxset of every word and note from the Funhouse sessions…But ultimately I don’t want to end up sounding like that clip from The Mighty Boosh about the rare vinyl…So! Thank you Nirvana, sounds like a fun September ahead! THANK YOU!

And please just breathe and enjoy the glory of the Boosh…