Archive for the ‘Unreleased n’ Posthumous Nirvana’ Category

Kudos and acknowledgment to Osty and to LiveNirvana for the early review AND for LN always being the best source of Nirvana news and information. A true legacy that site.

I think it’s fair to say that Montage of Heck has been a treasure trove for Nirvana fans. The film contained intriguing interviews with individuals who have rarely spoken extensively in public about Cobain, it contained substantial quantities of home movie footage either self-recorded or recorded by those around him, it gave a fresh experience of large amounts of Cobain art work, displayed a significant amount of Cobain audio recordings whether spoken word or musical – I mean, what a great year 2015 has been! The book, again, allowed an opportunity to read and consider the interviews from the film in greater depth and at leisure – it’s a valuable release – and the art work was worth looking at. As experiences, the cinema showing of Montage of Heck was really slamming – the volume, the sound quality, I loved it, it’s as close as I can imagine coming to seeing Nirvana in their heyday playing live, I found the sound that good. Similarly, being at home, watching Montage of Heck on DVD – brill, contemplative, varied, a full range of experiences at work. This is worth celebrating!

And now, in just a few weeks, we’ll be seeing the full Montage of Heck soundtrack release. S’ok if I just say “woohoo!!!” Leaving aside the not so super ‘Super Deluxe’ release which I think I griped about sufficiently last week, I think it’s fair to say that the soundtrack release is looking really great. Here’s the 31 tracks of Cobain compositions emerging:


So, let’s do the numbers – because this is the biggest release of previously unknown Cobain originals since his death in 1994. That’s how significant this release is. With the Lights Out contained 25 songs that hadn’t previously been officially released in any other form of which 8 were covers (Heartbreaker, White Lace and Strange, Moby Dick, They Hung Him on a Cross, Grey Goose, Ain’t it a Shame, Immigrant Song, Seasons in the Sun) but – even more significantly, 13 had been seen on bootlegs (Anorexorcist, Help Me I’m Hungry, If You Must, Pen Cap Chew, Raunchola, Beans, Don’t Want it All, Clean Up Before She Comes, Blandest, Token Eastern Song, Opinion, Verse Chorus Verse, Talk to Me) leaving just 4 songs (Mrs Butterworth, Old Age, The Other Improv, Do Re Mi) that hadn’t previously emerged prior to the official release.

The Montage of Heck soundtrack contains no fewer than 14 unreleased songs of which only one – the Happy Guitar – has been previously bootlegged. This is awesome. We’re 21 years after the death of Kurt Cobain and there’s this kind of quantity of genuinely unheard material emerging? Brilliant. A massive result.

Also, it’s always been under-appreciated that Cobain wasn’t just a song-smith, the guy had a genuine interest in the potential for sound creation with the limited means available to him as a dirt-poor unemployed guy in the Northwest. The ‘experimental pieces’ see him manipulating and testing the limits of his guitar, his voice, the effects he could access, his enjoyment of seguing together audio clips and snippets. Cobain was more than a guy whacking chords together into pop song structures. Whimsical though his efforts may have been, at least in the late Eighties, he was playing around and experimenting and the soundtrack makes a genuine effort to account for that with a number of these efforts – I admit I’m pleased, as a bit of a noise freak I’ve always wished there was more official record of Cobain’s freak-out moments.

The presence of audio clips of Cobain speaking to tape is also intriguing. It’s often forgotten that Cobain had a literary side, that his lyric-writing was – in his eyes – often a by-product derived from his poetry writing rather than singing being the first priority. The ‘Aberdeen’ clip has raised controversy given the likelihood that it’s fictitious or massively exaggerated but, regardless, it shows Cobain practicing his story-telling abilities, his interest in telling a tale. He’s been notorious for a long while for his willful inventions during interviews – this is akin to that aspect of his character. There’s an unfortunate tendency to hammer singer-songwriters with the need to be ‘true’ in their words, rather than appreciating their right and ability to inhabit other characters, write through other eyes, tell tales just as thoroughly as Hollywood or the great American authors. These audio clips may not elevate Cobain into those ranks, but it does indicate his striving for artistic expression – an expansion of how Cobain should be considered. The 10 audio/experimental pieces really do deserve to be here.

And that’s what I love about the Montage of Heck soundtrack. In conception, yes, it hangs together as a collage of sound material – an obvious intention well-performed. Secondly, it’s a richly varied approach to Cobain’s works which does so much more than just demand he adhere to verse-chorus-verse songwriting – thank God! Finally an open-minded attempt to show Cobain as a guy with an expansive taste and creative muse encompassing a full range of different outputs. Thirdly, hoping for vast wealth remaining in the vault has been looking ever less likely year-by-year…To be suddenly shown that YES! There is something approximating the hopes of the early 2000s, it gives me enthusiasm for the future of Nirvana/Cobain releases, that there might be more to come over the next decade.

As for the eight ‘known songs’, let’s look again and remember that ‘the Happy Guitar’ and the version of ‘Sappy’ are nice to have in improved quality (and not just on bootleg), that ‘Do Re Mi’ and ‘Clean Up Before She Comes’ are rarities in and of themselves and great to see more of. When this project was first mooted all I imagined we’d see – and this is only a year ago, less in fact – was home demos of known Nirvana songs. That would have satisfied me. To see so much other material – wow, beyond my dreams. I’m looking forward to hearing the four demos of major songs (Been a Son, Scoff, Frances Farmer, Something in the Way). OK, I could do without Beans but it seems that part of Beans is used as a motif in another collage – plus the context, blending Cobain’s serious and humorous homework, makes some sense of the tracks inclusion and what the hey! It’s brief! I’m good with it.

(EDIT: 1am, Tuesday 20 October. Brett Morgen has confirmed that this is in fact an entirely different source of ‘Beans’ to that used on With the Lights Out. I’d like to acknowledge this and apologise to readers and to Mr. Morgen for the inaccuracy on my part.)

Finally, quality. All I can say is “what do you want to hear?” Cobain seems to have had a very shrewd understanding of his own works; it’s why the band were able to release three albums and one compilation in his lifetime with barely an ounce of filler – he knew what his best efforts were in the context of whatever he was trying to do at the time. If all you want to hear are studio-readied, mainstream-ready recordings…Then go listen to the albums released 1989-1993. If you want to hear his also-rans, then check the singles, check With the Lights Out for a fair summation of what Cobain deemed his ‘second string’ songs. If you want to hear the stuff he deemed incomplete or abandoned, then there’s a lot of that now floating about. Here we have a young guy sat at home trying things out, seeing how they feel. We have no way of knowing if he might ever have returned to any of this – just instincts and vibes and impressions of how complete or otherwise something sounds. I enjoy that space of imagining, where there’s no proof, we just see how we feel in absence of categorical truth.

31 tracks of Montage of Heck? Bring it on. Autumn is here and a few nights with this on the stereo sounds just fine with me.

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.

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.

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?

Sheesh, did someone blow the doors clean off the Universal/Nirvana vault?

For those who want a new ‘holy grail’ to hope for, remember that Fecal Matter rehearsed with Greg Hokanson on drums before this tape of Cobain and Dale Crover was made, then there was a project with Mike Dillard and Buzz Osborne. There’s no known recording of any of this. Plus, there’s Cobain’s 1982 solo recordings to keep wishing for too. Ah, does it ever end? Thank God Cobain was a good self-archivist and kept all this material! It’s remarkable in a way, that someone with such insecure living arrangements, self-esteem and life prospects held onto all of this no matter what. It gives me the impression that music really was an anchor, a safe harbor, something to cling to – he didn’t dispose of tapes or chuck away the fruits of his creativity, he treasured them.

So, again, this’ll be hard to keep the door on, even when its pulled down from YouTube you’ll find it. A full hour tape. Makes me wonder, if they filled this cassette, did they start in on another tape? Is there more? Nah, unlikely, the final section is a repeated instrumental then stray leftovers. Thanks to DB for sorting me with this, hugely appreciated.

Most of the key named songs you’ll have heard. Around that though…

‘Unknown #1’ is a real ripper, one of the fastest most hardcore Cobain songs I think. Hammered through. Then that surviving line about “my asylum”, the chorus vocal melody survives to become part of “If You Must” in the Nirvana era. Nice effects in the outro.

‘Unknown #2’ has a nice drive, entirely new to me, excellent! Love how much Cobain experiments with his voice on this early tape, he goes in so many directions. Here he sounds alternately sick and snotty – real teen high pitch on that “I’m a punk rocker!” line. The words ‘anti-solo’ don’t cover what he does with his guitar here but it’s a really effective finish to a song, instead of it flailing back into another verse or fading out or any trad. trick the guitar goes haywire then the bass follows and the song falls apart. Great!

‘Unknown #3′ another joke voice song. There’s a doubled vocal at one point which sounded more like Dale added on. Those little touches are kinda impressive – there’s real thought going on about how to put together sounds for emphasis and impact, they’re not just splattering songs onto cassette rough n’ ready. “No you’re not mine” becomes the outro refrain. Cobain loves coughing sounds, choking, it’s like my nephew blowing raspberries through his entire christening the other day – a certain glee in making the throat do odd things.

‘Unknown #4’ yeah, again, Cobain sounds like he’s going to puke in this first verse. I remember hearing how Chris Cornell’s early work with Soundgarden was always like listening to an air raid siren because he’d not yet learned to moderate and carefully deploy his wail. That’s true of Cobain here, he’s aiming for those high notes, screams and screeches over and again. This track repeats elements of “Love my Family” and other lines or motifs I know from existing sources of Fecal Matter. Notable how ‘metal’ the bass work on these songs is, back before grunge brought hard rock back into repute, just after ‘da yoof’ were getting sick of straight punk. This is a very long song, potentially more of an improvisation which would explain why it seems to loop in elements of other tracks – it’s roughly ten minutes long with a long slow ‘doomy’ section.

‘Unknown #5’ kicks off with something kinda new wavey – guitar even sounds like an early keyboard, then vocals like an early rendition of “Beans” (it’s not but Cobain’s thing for helium voices apparently kept him happy for quite a few years.) Then the dynamic kicks in, like a hugely slowed down “Big Cheese” riff. The time changes are pretty great, the song rips up to full hardcore stomp after a minute or so. “I’m not a Russian, not a spy…Somebody said, should have been dead…Accusation…”

I’ll never get tired of “Spank Thru”, it’s a great early Nirvana song and, viewing the material they had available to them in early 1988 I can understand why they decided to get it out there on Sub Pop 200. I used to think it was a showcase for the ‘Nevermind’ era dynamic of songs, loud-soft etc. I was wrong. The guitar intro is wicked, always was.

‘Blather’s Log’ is a great story-telling song in the Cobain fashion, more stray images than a full narrative. There’s a court scene being laid out here, various aspects of the tale weaving in and out and all done in this forced croak. I’ve heard this before but still an impressive early work. Cobain really hasn’t found his voice yet, sure, from the start of the Nirvana era he has a lot of control over his voice, he can do a lot with it, but it’s always recognisably Cobain. On these early songs he’s working it in all kinds of directions, a lot of which don’t have any later markers in his calendar. The amount of work the guy put into finding his place in music, his desired identity, ‘himself’, it’s underappreciated. He’s not just been writing songs he’s been speaking in tongues – that must be hard, adopting a voice appropriate to a song or a mood or a vibe.

‘Class of 86’ heads down that same road, he impersonates made-up classmates, comes close to spoken word, snarls the chorus, screams “clone!” It’s a welter of different voices, far more than a two and a half minute pop song would usually incorporate. Some stray noise on the outro I hadn’t noticed including a background sound that runs straight into the start of ‘Unknown #6’, did they just take a breather than carry straight on into the next song?

‘Downer’, another great survivor from Easter 1986 through to January 1988. I’m not sure I ever got Cobain’s Black Flag comparison for this one. But I love the whistling solo. Cobain moved so fast through musical styles in the mid-to-late Eighties. There’s these hardcore/metal/punk hybrid tunes, then the new wavey oddness he’s reaching by the Jan ’88 sessions, then the grunge vibe mid-to-late ’88 which comes out on “Bleach” (which couldn’t sound more like a Sub Pop album if it tried), then the pop-punk vibe that barely lasts longer than the time it takes to hammer out Been a Son – Stain – Even in His Youth – Token Easter Song, the acoustic work in the background, then the big switches in 1990-1991. Cobain had a real gift for incorporating other influences into his work, for learning quick, for moving between styles. Some bands might take years of work just to create another album sounding just like what they’ve done before. This guy has left us with recordings from ’86, ’88, late ’88-early ’89, late ’89, early ’90, early-mid ’91 each with a different air.

‘Instramental’ is marked as a version of ‘Unknown #3’, again, there’s quite a few differences. It’s like comparing “Sifting” from “Bleach” to the instrumental version from the summer of 1988 – general vibes, riffs, reworked in substantially different ways. It doesn’t seem too defined, just playing around with ideas until they fall apart.

After that the tape features “Turnaround” by Devo – ye gods! Cobain’s love of early influences, his fidelity when it comes to his favourites. The idea that we get a tape here of that song then four years later he pulls that track out for BBC Radio and two years beyond that we get it on “Incesticide.” The guy knew what he liked…

You get near three minutes of “Turnaround” before the tape returns to Cobain working over riffs. This is actually a lot better than you’d imagine, hearing the riffs in isolation gives an opportunity to appreciate some of his guitar work without the rather muddy bass and cardboard drums clogging the sound (heck, without Cobain’s still thin voice over the top.) You’ll recognise most of these riffs from elsewhere on the tape. I swear that’s the “Big Cheese” riff coming in again!

I can see why, if this is the tape that Krist heard back in ’86, why it would make him want to team up with Cobain. There are so many ideas going on. That’s my biggest impression, often a single song goes in so many directions, sure, there may be a core riff, or a vestigial verse/chorus structure but usually there are off-kilter bridges, breaks, outros, intros, deviations going on. He’s not starting with something utterly basic, he appears to be past that already. I recall talk of how people found it surprising that Cobain could write something as sophisticated as “Spank Thru” so early in his career but it makes so much more sense in the context of these other early efforts where there’s a visible chomping at the bit, a desire to try different things. So much variety crammed into a single tape, it’s intriguing in a way that the progress from here to Nirvana was about paring back, simplifying, reducing the pebbledashing of ideas onto tape.

Gods it’ll be nice to hear a properly polished up (as best as possible) release some day. I’m sure Universal will get to it sometime. Why’s it coming out now? Intriguing…Is this someone linked to ‘Montage of Heck’ or to the release apparently coming later this year. If so, wow, could be we hear that official version sooner rather than later.

Going through what I’ve seen so far, just wanted to continue…

“Heart Shaped Box” An interesting instrumental take indeed, while the introduction/verse sounds more spindly and repetitious than the final take, the chorus – by contrast – sounds more muscular with the bass further forward, the guitar pushed that little further. In terms of differences, at 1.35 in there’s a slight tweak (or mistake) but the real interest is from 2 minutes in where the guitar (what I’d call the “heyyyy…Waiiiitttt…” notes) are really slammed. The entire solo is different, not as kicking or as well-poised as the final, but an interesting deviation. From 3.30 it sounds like Cobain is humming the vocal melody in the background.

“Here She Comes Now” from Smart Studios starts with a nice flubb and ‘whoops’ from Cobain. I’ve always loved the rich guitar tone on this cover even if it isn’t the most original cover version ever. The bass mix doesn’t have quite the grandeur of Krist’s work on the With the Lights Out version (that intro note he strikes and the post-verse re-starts…Lush.) I thought it might be a different vocal take but re-listening to 3.00 to 3.40, nah, it’s the same take as With the Lights Out. I had similar thoughts on the guitar, also unfounded as far as I can tell.  The last few seconds are taken up seemingly by an attempt to go right back to the intro and to begin again – cut off abruptly.

“Lithium”, an alternative take with the intro taken beautifully, really perky start but wow, Cobain sounds breathless. He can’t do the choruses so he just hummms then – it’s like listening to a kazoo or a paper-comb rendition of the choruses. I quite like the mumbled verses, they sound even more numbed and narcotic than the final resigned rendition. It’s a shame because instrumentally the choruses really rumble – bit of a contrast to Cobain sounding like he’s going through puberty. This is the funniest thing to listen to – all those genuflecting tedious articles plagiarizing each other with talk of his powerful voice then hearing this take. Amusing.

“Milk It”, you’ve heard this one before but the mix is extremely clean, a very live sound which adds something. As with “Scentless Apprentice” from Rio, hearing Cobain use sounds and stray words to sketch a lyrical form is always intriguing, seeing that he has the flow in place, the rise-and-fall, the emphases are often there first. Also the way he doesn’t just follow the guitar line in the way, for example, Ozzy Osbourne used to on Black Sabbath stuff.

“Seasons in the Sun” starts with Cobain saying “go Krist!” again, just bits previously edited out. Proper stereo sound too. I’ve always enjoyed this rendition, it’s a song that could be so cheesy (let’s be honest, it IS!) but Cobain’s delivery, the band seemingly having fun with it…It works. Nothing else to add really. Same take, fuller sound.

“Verse Chorus Verse” sounds like the same edition as featured on “With the Lights Out”, maybe a different vocal take – I’m not sure if I’m hearing different features at 1.30 to 1.40, similarly his voice seems to rise less on the choruses than on that other edition. I think the WTLO version is superior vocal-wise and there’s nothing really different instrumentally.

“Polly” …An alternative mix of Polly? Sheesh, a different mix of a song that barely seemed to have much mixing involved in the first place? I’d be lying if I said I heard anything. Just nice to have a reason to listen this intently…Usual unedited ending as is common on most of these pieces.

“Onwards into Countless Battles” Heh! New versions of rarities are always fun. A song that ends up on an album or official release is usually a closed door – it’s the artist’s choice of what the track SHOULD be. Alternative versions of unreleased/rare songs are still possibilities and potentials in the making – they’re undecided and there’s no way of privileging one over another. The mix is really clean, a good source, sounds great for a throwaway joke! Even the funky voices tweeting in the background and the “take it back” line are in place so it’s definitely not an alternative rendition.

“Old Age” (mix 1) a very full sounding tone instrumentally, let down by a second guitar that doesn’t seem to have been totally worked out yet, it drops out at seemingly random points in the first thirty seconds, returns to punctuate the song at around 00.50 and 01.10 for no apparent reason, it’s like someone is tuning up in the background. Otherwise the rhythm track seems complete, the main guitar line is in place, the band switch seamlessly through each part so they’re very familiar with it. Around 2.45 the second guitar comes in with what could be a neat counter-melody but, again, it’s not been properly worked out so drops away, changes direction, a practice or test-run. Vocally, there are lines in place but this is an awful lot of moaning and muttering.

“Old Age” (mix 2) has a cleaner introduction, mix 1 sees guitars in both left and right of the stereo chiming in, this just has guitar on the left and it sounds purer – there’s no interruption from the second guitar that muddied mix 1. The vocals on the With the Lights Out version are different to these two mixes – the whole rendition on WTLO is more definite especially on first verse (even if the WTLO version is still sketchy at points, check around two minutes in where he’s straining for effect and saying nowt – wish the bloody bloke would just pronounce “old age” properly in the choruses because the groan doesn’t do it for me). I’m not catching significant differences in the bass/drums, the chiming notes on the guitar seem more to the foreground which is welcomed. A tell tale regarding the vocal track is at 2.30 Cobain chokes on a word in both these new mixes – it’s the same vocal track.

“I Hate Myself and I Want to Die” Ouch! Loud enough to make my ears hurt. Love the noise. You’ve heard this demo version already but it seems to have a bigger kick here. The mix does make a difference, the jagged sounds all stand out in more detail. Interesting considering Cobain creating this first minute of noise, then going back and overdubbing a second guitar of even more noise to make it uber-nasty. The guy knew how to pull sound out of a guitar. Different vocal take? Or maybe just greater clarity. Again, words not fully in place, fun to hear him improvisation – Cobain would have made a good scat-singer.

I’m going to have to come back to “Sappy” again…But, maybe it’s weariness, I’ve been listening to this song since I found the Pachyderm rendition on a bootleg back in 1995, it’s probably still my favourite posthumous Nirvana track with the exception of “You Know You’re Right” and this isn’t sufficiently different or lively to replace my love of the deep deviations visible on the existing versions. It does sound more like more akin to “Nevermind” than the others, but it still sounds like a warm up rather than something where the band are pushing for a good take. Still (Sound City) Sappy, the last known jewel in the Nirvana vault (as opposed to the Cobain home tapes)…Fascinating! A good day!

These’ll all end up on an official release someday and I’ll certainly buy it. Why wouldn’t I? I actually DO want to buy official releases from bands, to support artists and indicate an appreciation of their work, I’m cool that a percentage goes to record labels to pay for the support services required to get music recorded, produced and out there… So whether I’ve heard these illicitly or not I’ll buy when Universal feel it’s time. Tiring sometimes that it can be so hard to get the studio works of a band all in one place but it’d deaden the excitement if I was hearing three takes of “Old Age” one after the other. I’d rather wait, anticipate, savor not knowing and not just being able to grab stuff.

Well gosh…I’m not sure there’s much I’d like to add except to thank my friend Diego C for bringing this to my attention and to the tireless denizens of LiveNirvana for the existing depth of their thoughts and analysis on this one.

Basic summary, over the weekend a number of unreleased demos – alternative takes and/or mixes from a number of sessions across 1991 to 1993 leaked. They consist of:

Smart Studios (April 1990)

Polly (alt. mix)

Here She Comes Now (alt. mix)

Sound City (May-June 1991)

Sappy (unreleased)

Old Age (alt. mix v1)

Old Age (alt. mix v2)

Verse Chorus Verse (alt. mix)

BMG Ariola, Rio de Janeiro (January 1993)

Scentless Apprentice (alt. mix)

I Hate Myself and I Want to Die (alt. mix)

Milk It (alt mix)

Onwards into Countless Battles (alt. mix)

Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip (alt. mix)

Seasons in the Sun (alt. mix)

Pachyderm (February 1993)

Heart-Shaped Box (instrumental)

Tourette’s (alt. mix) – thanks Raffaele!

I won’t post links simply because the YouTube links seem to being pulled down at a rate of knots so basically just hunt around, you’ll find them pretty easily. They seem to have been posted as audio files on Zomb Torrents first and, like anything in e-format, they’ve flowed from there.

So, personally, I had a rough weekend. A major bout of food poisoning had me inspecting my brother’s bathroom floors and facilities in more detail than I’d ever wish, I’m weak today, sleepy, a touch brain-dead…And this cheered me no end.

Any notes, not much, if you’re a Nirvana fan then you know these songs by now, you’ll notice inflections and alterations that revive and refresh old memories – its how outtakes work really, something known so well you’re not really listening suddenly tweaked in some small way to wake you briefly from autopilot. Why would anyone listen in this detail to something they’ve been listening to twenty plus years? But listening to a slightly new version? Ah, that’s different.

Sad though it is to reduce thoughts to impressions I just thought I’d listen through and note elements – naturally my ears aren’t the be-all-end-all, musicians among you will note more than I do. Just things I enjoyed…

“Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol…” A touch of extra noise in the first couple seconds, from 2.45 there’s another guitar track given more prominence returning to lend weight from about 4.45, cymbal work more prominent from 5.30 onward, 6.30 onward the bass is really up in the mix. Annnnd a nice extra minute and twenty of indulgent guitar improv from Cobain.

“Tourette’s” Double-tracked or additional vocals joining in on the “heys!” They do actually add something I’d have to say…

“I Hate Myself and I Want to Die” A few stray sounds noted compared to the With the Lights Out edition but otherwise nothing much to see here. A general lightness and freshness to it. Cobain goes crazy at 3 minutes in, neat. Gives a deeper impression of his spontaneity on this track, either that or his ability to make pre-planning sound wild.

“Sappy” Well was it ever going to be more than a light diversion? It’s nice to hear the roar of the 1990 version stripped back but it definitely lacks a certain spark, there’s a sketchiness to it (and to Cobain’s vocal) that is either appealing or a bit ‘meh’. It’s fine though, such a likable song is impossible to ruin and it’s fun watching Cobain haul through another quite significant variation on this song that he could never get just right. I wish there were as many versions of this out there as there have been ‘Been a Son’.

“Scentless Apprentice” Gains a few stray opening sounds and amp noise at the end edited out of subsequent release but heck, I’ve always enjoyed Cobain’s lyrical approach to this one!

Go forth, enjoy the rest as you will.