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.