Overdue Musings on the Nirvana “E-Coli” Leak and Others

Posted: September 3, 2015 in In Utero 1992-1993

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

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

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

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

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Comments
  1. A.J says:

    What a joy to read a blog about Nirvana written by someone who actually knows what he’s talking about! 🙂

    • nsoulsby says:

      Not all the time I don’t! People here have very rightly called me out allllllll the time! LiveNirvana is still the heartland for Nirvana knowledge, they know so much more than I do. But reallllllly pleased you like what I’ve been up to here! I know the articles are longer than a lot of online content (and a lot more rambling) but it’s partly for the enjoyment of taking time taking about something and giving it the respect it deserves (i.e., it deserves my time and energy not just some whipped out clickbait sh**). Cheers AJ!

  2. A.J says:

    I’ve been an avid lurker at the LiveNirvana forum for years and years, and I do agree with you that there is so much Nirvana related knowledge there. However it’s too often being overshadowed by endless blabla, speculation and irrelevant opinion-ranting.
    I prefer factual readings like yours 🙂 I’ve been a huge Nirvana fan since I discovered them in 1992, and I am obsessed with discovering new unreleased songs. I think I have nearly everything that’s out there in my collection. (still missing a few odds and ends…) The past months with all the leaks have sparked my enthusiasm all over again.
    Anyway, I have tons of catching up to do with all the blogs you have on this site! Keep ’em coming!

  3. coen says:

    Nick’s writings are usually very enjoyable. Sometimes he might be wrong, or you might not agree 100% with what he’s rambling about (which is not my case, definitely :P), but he has a thing with words and he sure knows what he’s talking about. That said, from the little I know about him, if he states something is because he indeed has checked his sources before, that is, has taken the time to find that someone and ask them about a particular issue. I admire that. He doesn’t just fuck around with guessings and never.ending rantings, though he does like writing looong posts… don’t ya, Nick? ;P

  4. Brutus The Barber says:

    It is interesting because it actually sounds nothing really like other Nirvana jams or improvised stuff IMO.

    Kurt for starters seems to be using several FX pedals you would not normally associate with him. Dave is playing drums in an unusually restrained and very minimal way for him.
    It clearly is Nirvana as can hear Kurt’s vocals half way through but this actually backs up some of what Kurt said in mid 93 (like that Seattle August 93 interview) and even in 94 said that he had been messing around with some ‘new’ FX boxes and wanting to experiment which he said as “who knows it might end up embarrassing”
    According to livenirvana.com this was recorded in summer 93 at Jukebox City in Seattle. So In Utero was already all recorded. That makes sense and actually backs up some of what Kurt said in that interview Kurt did in August 93 in Seattle. Interestingly it sounds like 2 guitars and again is relatively un-Kurt like FX wise but also bit playing wise. Its weird even for a Nirvana jam.

    Its interesting to hear just random improvs / jams / band rehearsal / fucking around stuff like this. Well it is if you like the band.

    • nsoulsby says:

      Totally agree! Love the random jams and improvs! Really would love to hear more of them even though I’m sure they don’t fit the ‘mainstream release’ mode.

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