1991/1993 Nirvana Demo Leak – Part Two Impressions

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.


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