I admit I am. I’m long past any kinda rationality when it comes to the leftovers of Nirvana, I’ll listen to anything out of sheer curiosity even if it doesn’t necessarily sustain lengthy re-listening. So, I confess I’ve been listening repeatedly to illicit YouTube dubs of soundtrack material from Montage of Heck. What to make of it?
There are a few different ‘spliced’ editions of the previously unheard material up there now. Now, to be fair, I enjoy listening to it, very much so. But trying to be cold-eyed about it, what are we faced with amid this ten minutes of material?
OK, ignore the ‘band rehearsal’ shreds, they’re just chatter basically. That’s followed by what the text below the video states has been referred to as the ‘Cry Baby Jenkins’ riff – I confess to being ignorant of the reasons why this brief electric clatter and band joke links to the ‘Cry Baby Jenkins’ tale found in the earlier YouTube link here but perhaps that’ll become clear elsewhere. Again, it’s kind of a nothing, it’s very visible he’s just made it up on the spot without a thought.
Then we’re on into vestigial renditions of future Nirvana songs which, though welcomed, from a completist perspective aren’t exactly stunning reinventions. Really what we’re looking at is half formed, very early attempts which are interesting from the perspective of seeing how Cobain would work around riffs and ideas and gradually flesh them out and fill them in.
Then we get into an intriguing element for those of us who thirst for Cobain/Nirvana leftovers – a run of unknown tracks lasting 2 minutes and 5 seconds. The four pieces featured don’t offer too much food for thought I’d have to say. The first two pieces are barely 15 seconds between them, the acoustic riff is nondescript and the vocal is barely more than playtime. The ‘Change Me’ electric shred is neatly metal-tinted, chunky, but there’s nothing there beyond one line of lyrics repeated over in a gasping, short of breath screech. There’d have to be a lot more to the song to make it more than an example of Cobain roaming widely over musical territory when experimenting at home (a bit like ‘Black and White Blues’ or whatever that jazzy finger-picked effort is called these days…)
Then we’re onto the most meaty of the new material seen so far, the 36 second long ‘rainfall song’ (it’s what I call it, maybe I should become a bootlegger and make up song titles as a hobby.) I love the use of the field recording – i’m going on trust that it was Cobain working with field sound and playing over the top. It’s a wonderful combination, atmospheric, moody, neat. The guitar riff tumbles down in a steady cycle – there’s something like a chain rattling at one point…It works well for a song with no words, with little beyond an overall tone and style holding it together. It’s a great example of Cobain’s ability to focus on creating an emotional colour first, then any technical structure or actual words second. It’s why his music is so affecting, he had the emotion down first then everything else after.
Next up is the longest piece here and exhibits Cobain’s tendency to moan sounds when he hasn’t yet worked out the words, it’s not unpleasant, there’s a drift to it that’s quite appealing, a relaxed sway. But let’s be under no illusions, it’s another piece where it’s unclear if he’s even awake, it’s like he’s on automatic just trailing this pattern over and over while thinking of something else. It’s hard not to want these interludes and curios in some form because they are interesting, diverting, distracting…But there’s a distinct lack of anything substantial anywhere in this track or in the preceding two minutes. The later piece marked ‘Come on Death’ in the credits has a similar absence of anything marking it out as noteworthy. There’s a useful reiteration of Cobain’s desire to play with sound and with sound effects which is already well-known to anyone playing around in the bootleg field…That’s it.
So, there’s one cover song too, the much commented on rendition of “And I Love Her.” There’s not much to add really. It isn’t the best guitar work from Cobain, there’s nothing here bar sophomoric practice strumming, no fresh touches, nothing to mark out a superstar versus anyone else in their bedroom. The vocal too, quavering notes, a gravel-throated aspect, no real difference in tone or anything heroic. It’s ‘nice’ but that’s it. A fairly dead work.
The best of what’s here is the segued versions of Sappy with the acoustic and electric neatly cutting from one to t’other. The acoustic vocal benefits from the additional echo, the added sounds in the background, the ‘sea monkeys’ muttering at the start – it’s these additional touches and inflections around a known riff that make it intriguing. The electric meanwhile sounds so menacing – was there anything that couldn’t be done with this song? It’s so adaptable! And he clearly worked so hard on it given the number of extant studio versions and home versions already in existence and now an additional two versions with neat differences that make a genuine difference in the feel created. I think this song is amazing. Sappy is the great survivor of the Nirvana era, the song he tries over and over again, devotes more time to than any other on tape…
So, if this is all that was deemed worth inclusion in the soundtrack that kinda worries me, was there really so little that was worth trailing in the film? And leaving such a long gap between the film and the actual soundtrack release seems silly on the part of Universal though I can understand they’re digging for the Christmas nostalgia market. Building all that buzz then letting it drop away again… As ever, I live in hope of surprises and being proven wrong and discovering my own error and that there’s a full set of intriguing demos just around the corner. Fingers crossed!