1991 and 1993 Nirvana Demos Leak

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.


Looking Forward to a New Nirvana (i.e., Kurt Cobain) Album?

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!

Managing the Cobain Legacy – How Does One Create Lasting Memory and Appeal?

Times change.

Sure, some artists will always have a place in musical histories – but that’s not the same as giving them a vibrant posthumous life. This is a simple consequence of life; musical tastes change as generations succeed one another. The greatest shifts in music in the past half century were the handover of the baton from classical to jazz, from jazz to rock, from rock to hip hop/R n’ B/urban (I’ve long since lost track of what to call it.) Sat in a darkened cinema that seats perhaps fifty people, seeing there were still seats for “Montage of Heck” free – it certainly reminded me that Nirvana weren’t as big a force in the U.K. as they were in the U.S. and that Cobain’s enduring appeal isn’t as total as it might seem among fan circles.

Nirvana circles are constantly caught between a number of kneejerk reactions that can be read in the comments sections beneath most articles online; firstly, “can’t we stop exploiting the guy? Isn’t this done? Can’t he rest in peace? Do they have to keep pumping out new material when only the three albums plus Incesticide are essential?” The second, “why aren’t they releasing X known archive recording? Where is the official release of Y? Can’t the record label get it together and put Z out after all these years?” It’s a feast or famine narrative; one part of the audience has had enough, one part wants more. Someone somewhere has to arbitrate between these two audience segments and ensure the conversation keeps going if a legacy is to be supported.

Before that, there’s a basic legal decision to be made. Many fans get caught up in the acquisitive urge – the idea that a creative individual’s works ‘belong’ to the audience rather than to the family, friends and loved ones of that individual. It’s usually couched in the language of freedom (the same way conservatives couch the withdrawal of government support for the needy as a way of giving those people freedom) when I’d have to say the idea of stripping an individual of any rights to define the inheritance they leave to others, or of stripping those others of any right to benefit, seems unjustifiable. The individual’s will is always the first step same as for a house or any other property. Next the family claim wherever rights aren’t owned by third parties (record companies, publishing companies, management companies, etc. all of whom have paid an artist – and had their payment accepted – for a particular component of the rights over the works under discussion) There’s nothing to stop fan communities bidding for such rights and purchasing them of course but in the meantime the rights are defined by these agreements. Those stakeholders need to decide what they wish to do – do they even want the work involved in managing a legacy when posthumous rights are such amorphous and difficult legal constructs?

Many personal wills and inheritances are disputed or leave various parties dissatisfied – imagine how much more complicated this is when the inheritance under discussion consists of business rights, commercial shares, ongoing financial relationships rather than simply a house and its contents. The aftermath of the Sex Pistols, of the Beatles, of Elvis, of Hendrix – all were beset by years of legal wrangling before a cleaner approach could emerge without a fudge of arguments, writs and protests swamping the positive celebration of someone’s work. The resolution of this overhang of business seems to be crucial – in the case of Nirvana it caused a cessation of releases from the time of “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah” in 1996 until the greatest hits and “You Know You’re Right” in 2002. The legal bedrock needs to be solid before a legacy can begin to address what fans want.

At this point – if a memory isn’t to fade – new material, new content, new information is needed and it needs to spark several reactions; newcomers who haven’t experienced the artist need to be provoked into being curious enough to learn about them or hear them; people who grew bored of them need to want to pick them up again; those who remain devoted need the least work really but still need to feel simultaneously interested and like there’s more to come. Flooding a market with product lessens the impact, creates over-familiarity, achieves little additional benefit for all the extra cost and effort involved – it’s a waste. It’s also inhuman, it takes no account of the fact that hearing a new live recording every couple years might remind one of what one loved about a band but hearing 100 live takes of the same song all at once just provokes disinterest. Releases must be managed to ensure warmth of feeling persists, that continued fandom is rewarded regularly, that interest is staggered to catch new age groups, that boredom and over-saturation doesn’t set in.

Legitimacy is also crucial. Elvis Presley’s reputation suffered mightily during his lifetime from cheap budget releases and an over-proliferation of repetitive live recordings. It took time after his death to pause, restore respectability to the catalogue and the perceived ownership and to proceed from there. The legacy of Jimi Hendrix had a similar challenge; while the first few Hendrix archive releases were appreciated the decisions being made by the mid-Seventies to overdub and re-make tracks meant the authenticity of the resulting recordings was increasingly in doubt. Again, it took a substantial reset – the acquisition of rights to his music by Hendrix’s family, the setting up of Experience Hendrix – before the credibility of the catalogue returned. Interference with recordings isn’t such a challenge in the case of some musical sources; Michael Jackson’s catalogue is a fair example – his vocal is deemed the crucial requirement so updating the backing tracks, updating the collaborators, tweaking the sound is all deemed (within reason) acceptable.

Over-saturation is always an issue. Tupac Shakur’s vast archive of studio vocal tracks left rich pickings for his record label (Death Row) and the business his mother set-up to manage his affairs. The deluge that followed over the decade after his death, unfortunately, exhausted much good will; two disc compilations ever two years were so lengthy they were tiring to listen to and exposed a lack of differentiation or development that might have been less obvious with slimmer releases; the choices made musically often seemed to the detriment of Tupac’s impact; side-bar releases (a live record, two volumes of remixes, various unofficial compilations of early material, the movie soundtrack, reissues) created a jumble in which it was hard to feel any new release was notable or special. All this material failed to quell the call from some quarters for ‘the original tapes’ to be released, or the sense that there was yet more to come – the fanatics still wanted more long after most people had stopped looking. By the time the Tupac campaign shriveled down to one disc releases (the Eminem-helmed release, the soundtrack, one final Tupac disc overloaded with collaborations) it seemed to be a response to dwindling material of quality rather than a decision based on paying attention to audiences.

Joy Division went down a similar – though slightly different path starting at an earlier stage. A well curated leftovers release, “Still”, hit right back in 1981 – a fine record at a peak of interest in the band. While that would seem to be a best practice (look at Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged in New York” to see this in action) the subsequent development of the band’s legacy fell short. This was based on regular issues of ‘half heard’ compilations with the odd bonus thrown in – then a truly excellent box-set (Heart and Soul) which unfortunately made subsequent archive efforts look threadbare. At least the live shows were worthy of interest but sound quality issues are a heavy factor given Joy Division never made it to vast acclaim (and vast live recording budgets) during their lifetime as a band. It’s been a disjointed process. That issue of a lack of material impacted the Notorious BIG’s posthumous records – ultimately the guy didn’t record enough music to sustain a legacy though both his main albums are remarkable. The “Born Again” release required padding out with collaborations to make anything of the slim pickings of his vocals – “Duets” was even worse – the “Greatest Hits” was fair enough then the film soundtrack added next to nothing. Each made money, none really burnished credentials. Maybe hip hop just moves too fast for a legacy to ever last long – that’s a different question however.

Every back catalogue ends up dealing with the question of eking out a dwindling supply of material. Often this results in claims of exploitation of fans who end up paying in order to get hold of one, two tracks. The thirtieth anniversary “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” reissues kept it simple; deluxe containing a good quality live show, super-deluxe containing some (fairly well known) demos plus the supposedly long-lost and recently rediscovered studio version of “Belsen Was a Gas” with Johnny Rotten on vocals, plus various other ephemera. After thirty years such limited means seems acceptable. At some point there has to be a projection of how long an artist’s critical cachet will last and therefore how to stagger releases. Being able to release new live recordings and demo dribbles forever might be possible but once there’s a bare handful bothering to listen there’s no point. This question would seem to emerge sooner rather than later in most cases; how long was it worth holding back Tupac’s music? How long is it worth holding back Kurt Cobain’s music?

In the case of the Beatles’ Anthology reissues there was at least a good portfolio of practices, warm-ups and early takes to refer to which satisfied fans. The challenge here, however, was that their legacy had been swamped in legal action for so long that there’d be next to no attempt to develop it properly – it all came too late at the tale end of too many re-parceled sets of known songs. Expectations had reached extreme levels meaning Anthology couldn’t fail to underwhelm even with the ‘reunion’ songs included – waiting for decades to discover scratch efforts, having to parse warmed over rock n’ roll or edited together takes of whatever…Whereas a gradual release of material over the years might have kept interest alive without wounding anticipation, what happened was too much all at once everything was over and done with between November 1995 and October 1996. It was a failure of scheduling that put too much attention on why leftovers stay leftovers when a gentler approach could have pleased many people.

Without careful bundling, quality and substance become crucial. The remastered Led Zeppelin issues were a triumph of modernity – a facelift on old friends. The extras included, however, were of limited interest and limited divergence from the known songs. Issuing songs with only one verse from Michael Jackson while foregrounding his name as if it’s still his record rather than a stitched up compilation ends up an embarrassing failure of honest and fair description which, again, wears down good will (and therefore potential buyers.)

Where does this leave us with the Nirvana legacy? Well, in my ‘umble opinion, the last decade has actually been a really effective performance and there is credit due to the various parties involved. Perhaps that’s a controversial perspective but let me explain further…

The MTV Unplugged album was a huge success – it’s outsold “In Utero” and has done much to mellow perceptions of Kurt Cobain, to open doors to his music that Nirvana’s noisier aesthetic hadn’t necessarily permitted. The rapid-fire timing made absolute sense. The next steps – issuing the last work Cobain had been really committed to (Live! Tonight! Sold Out!) in 1995 as well as the singles box in some countries kept interest alive and plugged a hole given Nirvana hadn’t issued a live record or a visual recording at that point. While From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah was unsatisfying to many fanatics who were already gorging on live bootlegs it did provide a rapid-fire retort to the softer image of Unplugged and did no harm. The pause for the next few years could have been a challenge except it meant Nirvana’s reappearance occurred as a new generation discovered the band (take a look at the performance of most great artists and note most have a wilderness phase then rediscovery based less on quality of fresh output and more on new audiences after the generation that needed to react against it’s predecessors has moved on).

The Greatest Hits had the ‘golden ticket’ in the form of You Know You’re Right – there had to be a greatest hits at some point, it was a sensible reentry point (or starting point for some bands) and there wasn’t much debate on the choices made. It did what it said on the tin. The box-set struck a decent middleground – known b-sides, a slew of true unknowns, home demos, different versions, the DVD element. While fans gripe about the sound quality on some choices, that better versions existed elsewhere, it was still an extensive and pretty comprehensive entry. After this point Nirvana fans have had something to look forward on what is normally a two year cycle with DVDs and live recordings filling the hole until the anniversary releases came out.

The doubling up of album anniversaries and DVD releases has prevented over-saturation because the visual and the audio components are such separate entities. Time has been left in the schedule for people to yearn for something fresh each time. I think Montage of Heck’s release in 2015, two years after the In Utero anniversary campaign fills an appropriate hole and – again – adopts a multi-channel approach which prevents it clogging fans up or confusing them regarding what to choose. It also provides a narrative that gives legitimacy to the issue of Cobain’s more shredded and non-commercial pieces – I think it’s a clever move that will help deflect criticisms of its ropey nature. It’ll be appreciated as part of an attempt to show Cobain in a flawed and naturalistic light rather than as simply “the next archive release.”

The anniversary releases were, again, comprehensive mashups of the live and studio material that remains related to “Nevermind” and “In Utero” – it’s a shame there wasn’t a deeper look at the “Bleach” era but that release was relatively low-key by comparison to its successors and was no embarrassment. There’s been good logic behind each release, the exclusions and repetitions were kept to a minimum, it’s clear why the combinations of material used were put there. While some have queried the mixing efforts, or the absence of one or t’other song, those are minor complaints when judged against the wholesale rewriting of history that happened to someone like Hendrix, or the massively unsatisfied desires of Beatles fans or Led Zeppelin fans, or the threadbare results of the BIG effort. It’s been respectful, regular, neither gluttonous feast nor bone-thin famine.

The only missteps really have been “Sliver” in 2005 – a fairly pointless rehash of the box-set which really was open to accusations of cash-grab given the tagging on of extras only a year after the majority of the release had already been seen – plus the “Icon” greatest hits set that no one can figure out why it’s out there. That’s not bad for a twenty year old legacy that’s put so much material into the public space.

Is there more? Why yes. That’s the crucial element – there’s got to be more to keep things going, to keep the excitement. So sure, I’d like to hear Fecal Matter, Sound City Sappy, whatever someday…But I’ll wait. So far I’m pretty confident it’ll come because so far there’s always been something in the pipeline. It’s smart commerce and smart management and compared to the treatment of many artist’s work posthumously I have few complaints.

The Brett Morgen Biopic of Kurt Cobain: Reasons for Good Feelings

There’s a kneejerk tendency among certain groups of Nirvana fans to cuss the name of Courtney Love. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that I don’t share that inclination. Why? Well, essentially, as someone wishing to hear more of the musical works of Kurt Cobain, as someone wishing to see more of his wider artistic efforts – Courtney Love is the keeper of the keys to the vault. I don’t feel she’s been any more or less a good custodian than Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, Universal – nor do I feel in a position to criticise given I don’t possess, nor do I know anyone who possesses, experience of the intricate process of managing the legacy of an individual across decades.

The involvement of Courtney Love and Frances Bean Cobain in Brett Morgen’s film should be a source of encouragement for those hoping for the chance to hear more of Cobain’s work. The crucial point is to differentiate between NIRVANA’s work and COBAIN’s work. Nirvana was a group entity that interpreted and enacted Cobain’s creative will. The data on record regarding their studio sessions indicates there’s a bare handful of songs as yet unreleased, entirely other takes of songs we’ve already heard. From a very early stage in the posthumous process they were forced to dig into non-studio rehearsal tapes and boombox work without emerging with many true revelations; a jam here, an unreleased instrumental there, sketch songs lightly buttered over the top. Krist Novoselic’s past comment on the paucity of unheard Nirvana material seems accurate to me – the group released the vast majority of what it recorded. Nirvana were deeply economical when in studio; it was rare they even laid down b-side material at the same session as their album. In the early years it was simply because they couldn’t afford extensive recording sessions, the later years, meanwhile, were such a rush that there was barely time to record. While there’s undoubtedly still a pool of other mixes, other versions, slightly tweaked efforts of known songs sitting around somewhere – there’s been nothing since 2004 to dispel the notion that the cupboard is bare of any fresh You Know You’re Right moment.

The next potential source of truly unheard material would be to head toward Cobain’s juvenilia. Sure, the Fecal Matter tapes have now secured a legendary status, but then there’s still whatever earlier teenage sketches remain buried, plus anything laid down on tape prior to the commencement of the first recognisable iteration of Nirvana in late 1986. The turnover of Nirvana songs in these early years was remarkable – Cobain was prolific, the Easter 1986 recording of Fecal Matter carried over barely a song and a half to the earliest known efforts of ‘Nirvana’, then the January 1988 sessions gave way to an almost entirely different selection of songs by December 1988 when Bleach was recorded. That’s rapid work, a dozen songs at a time introduced and dispensed with. Depending on whether that apparent pace was in effect prior to Easter 1986, there’s potentially more to be seen there. Depending on how many ideas didn’t make it to Nirvana sessions maybe there’s more from 1987-1988 too. After that I doubt there’s much going sketched but unrecorded.

This is where the Courtney Love factor comes into play. While Nirvana, as a group, barely created any new music between 1992-1994, it’s unclear the extent to which Kurt Cobain did or did not continue to prepare private material. It’s also uncertain to what extent he recorded privately with Courtney. These are the primary sources from whence unfamiliar and unknown material could conceivably emerge. During the two-and-a-half years of Cobain’s fame he spent barely thirty days in the studio with Novoselic and Grohl including the abandoned April 1992 sessions, abandoned October sessions, one week playing at Pachyderm Studios for In Utero then one week mixing, only turning up for one day in January 1994…And between February 1992 and October 1993 he was barely ever on a stage…This guy was at home (or wherever he happened to be living at the time) and it’s the home recordings that could potentially indicate whether those years were ones in which he continued expressing musically, or whether he moved away from music toward video, art, family and unconsciousness. I don’t know the answer. But I do feel I expect more ‘new’ to come from Courtney than from something like the rumoured ‘Bathtub is Real’ tape recorded with Tobi Vail. While I’d be intrigued to hear what’s there I suspect no more than sketches of Nevermind-era songs.

Does that mean I’m forecasting some weighty quantity of well-drawn acoustic pieces? Some kinda Nick Drake style reassessment of Cobain’s abilities with an acoustic guitar? Nope. Let’s be fair, Cobain was disinterested in, and dismissive of, sophisticated instrumental technique – I expect the endearing and appealing sloppiness he often exhibited live (or on the existing home demos from 2004’s With the Lights Out) to be to the fore. Similarly, do I expect him to be blowing his vocal cords out when playing at home in a closet? Nope, the pieces seen so far are far more restrained – but, again, that isn’t a bad thing, just different. I’d suspect much of what exists will be unstructured, not really worked up given how much of Nirvana’s In Utero work in Rio and Pachyderm stemmed from thin ideas around which the band ad-libbed and jammed up some real quality. As stated earlier, Nirvana were economical in studio and I believe that’s reflective of Cobain’s general approach – don’t polish and re-polish a piece in private unless it’s intended to go somewhere. Given how short on songs the band were by the end of 1992/start of 1993 I’d be surprised if he had much in his back pocket that he wasn’t placing on the table for Nirvana’s full band consideration. That draws the eye to the post-In Utero era, again, it’ll be curious to hear what occurred in that final year…But there’s not much time for miracles with October-December plus February spent on tour. Let’s see shall we? Courtney has the keys…She was there.

Nirvana In Utero Deluxe Editions at Two Months Distance

Wondered how everyone was feeling about their Nirvana In Utero deluxe and super-deluxe editions now there’s been time for it to soak in?

In the run-up I was pretty contented – some material I’d never heard, a potentially intriguing remix job, the Litt/Albini originals of a few pieces, the one surprise instrumental from a rehearsal, the bonus footage pieces. I’m very much on the glass half-full side of things, especially given I know it was feeding a hole that can never be filled meaning that anything that emerges was, and is, welcomed and appreciated.

At this point…Well, I’d still rate myself satisfied – the remastering was perfectly decent and I see no great reasons for anyone to complain about the slight ‘pumping up’ of the original album, the remix had a few points of intrigue, the bonuses made sense and Live and Loud is still a quality performance – love the long outro…More of this kinda chaos please!

But. On the other hand, I admit the randomness of including certain instrumentals and not others, of including certain early takes and not others…That definitely grates on me. When all the additional material is filler for fanatics hearing that someone somewhere has decided that certain material is ‘even more filler than other filler’ and that I’d definitely not want to hear it…It’s just irksome. I’m trying my best to think of it as the equivalent of the hierarchy of eBay, then second hand and charity shops, then finally bric-a-brac stores and carboot sales – that there are differing levels among pieces someone gets rid of but still…Unless an outtake is unavailable or genuinely wrecked I’ve no idea why one outtake should be deemed of any greater value than another.

Also, the 2013 remix did disappoint – I was hoping to hear far more wrenching changes to a greater number of songs. Instead, a few peaks do stand out but too few to fundamentally alter my listening experience or to distinguish the remix greatly from the original album. I’ve tried it with headphones, I’ve tried it with the original album playing alongside…Ultimately I think one problem may be that an exercise like this being in the hands of music producers/engineers fails to recognise the difference between the aural depth heard by those experts versus what might be distinguishable to an untrained individual who can’t isolate the audio tracks and doesn’t have such sensitive hearing. I was hoping for more. I’d have been more than happy, as an experiment, to hear them drop out backing, chop vocals, restructure songs…Isn’t it funny? I’m happy to consider sacrilege so long as it made for something fresh!

Ultimately there’s a touch of realisation to the whole experience, for me. The reason that there are not many deep cuts or intriguing diversions on the release is simply because that absence is a realistic portrait of what was going on in terms of Nirvana in the 1992-1993 period. Nirvana entered the studio in October 1992 and did barely one day’s work, they managed at most two days playing together as a band in January 1993, then in February they hammered out the album and all additional takes and so forth in, at most, a single week. This wasn’t a band taking time to evolve, develop or experiment with their songs – they were walking in, hammering out takes, then heading home where Cobain might work on something to order the band to do next time they got together. The compilers of the In Utero twentieth anniversary releases had the unenviable task of fleshing out a mildly depressing period of time for Nirvana and I feel they did so subtly (for example, the pieces in the Super-Deluxe book that emphasise the business and product aspects of an album) and accurately (in terms of the overall paucity of revelations or substantially different material.)

It does make me wonder though, whether Courtney Love has plans for the remaining tapes of Cobain demos given there have now been several occasions between 2009 and 2013 for further use to be made of whatever remains in that archive. On the one hand it makes me think that the rift opened way back in the early 2000s has never even reached the point at which she’s involved in any of the anniversary releases. On the other, it still lends me hope that there’s more to be made of material from her side of things – material that isn’t sitting with the label, or with Krist and Dave, or in the bands of Nirvana’s various producers.

That’s what I feel fans really have to look forward to; more Cobain material, a lot less Nirvana releases of real note.

Interval for In Utero


I keep trying to judge if I’m getting away from my initial decisions about this blog; essentially I don’t have any desire to share myself and my world with the universe — though I’ve enjoyed very much sharing more back-and-forth with a cluster of fellow fans who have taken the time to wave my way and share their own enthusiasms. When I started this blog I decided (a) no personal stuff (b) focus on Nirvana, simple as that (c) no petty personal ‘reviews’ of releases that are simply a personal aesthetic commentary and could as easily be rendered on Amazon or someplace (d) stick to analysis, stick to segmenting and sorting information. So that’s what goes through my head and influences how I end up writing about topics. Today’s post drips over the line into personal, circles around (b), tries to avoid being (c) and barely touches (d.)


Anyways, yes, back home but not finished writing up the excursion to the Pacific North-West yet — I’ll get on with the next piece tomorrow. Today I wanted to take a moment for the In Utero Twentieth Anniversary release; I mean, heck, it genuinely is a Christmas reminder for me; that cassette at the front? That’s my 1993 Christmas present from mum and dad. And the CD alongside it? That’s the 1995 gift from my aunt and the first CD anyone else ever bought me (my first ever CD purchase was a month or so earlier when I bought the Nirvana singles box-set.) The In Utero album, on a personal level, has a significantly festive vibe to it.

I admit, of course, that overall what makes Nirvana special for me is that it’s a remnant of my childhood and that direct-plug-in back to my thirteen/fourteen year old self. This allows me to easily fall back into the kind of tensely excited ‘waiting for miracles’ that used to accompany birthdays, Christmas, trips to the chip shop on a Saturday or down town with pocket-money (I like to think I was an enthusiastic kid and readily entertained and amused.) This proviso is offered to explain why I worked from home the other day so I could more or less hang out of the window and await the delivery truck. Gods it was a long day. Thank God the plumbers arrived so I could tell myself I wasn’t just running downstairs to check the front door mat. It made me hyper-aware of noise in the neighbourhood today; every time I recognised the purr of a van heading down the street I was there peering out, each motorbike murmuring by had me straining to see if it was heading this way. And then! Suddenly! A van pulled up, a delivery guy got out, he opened the back doors of the van…
…And he was getting out a vacuum cleaner for some bloke down the street. Darn.

Anyways, after a very long day exhibiting my comprehensive gift for patience (re: I have no patience whatsoever, I’m no good at delayed gratification whatsoever), finally it got here just before 7pm. Heck, I even washed my hands before opening the package so now I feel bad about my fetishisation of the product too.

Any comment on the booklet/brochure? It’s a nice item like all these artistically done box-sets tend to be and in terms of its content there are a few points that stuck out for me. Firstly, the inclusion of the studio bill and, more so, of the scribbled sheet explaining the PR plans for the release acknowledge the way in which an album is one expression of an overall master-plan of activities and separate deliverables designed to deliver a business plan and ultimately sales. Wedging these items into a commemorative package celebrating In Utero breaks the focus on it as purely an artistic or personal statement and starkly declares the corporate, commercial reality of the album — this isn’t just a work of art, it’s simultaneously just another product. While that might seem a sad or a grim decision to take I’d argue it has a Cobainesque quality to it; it’s a posthumous echo of his plans for an album called Sheep; it’s as blunt as his Radio Friendly Unit Shifter title — the man at the centre of all this was decisively aware of these currents to what he was doing and whoever designed the Super-Deluxe box-set was sharp enough to integrate that disquieting element here.

The other comment on the brochure is the acknowledgement of Pat Smear’s elevation to full band member. I don’t remember his presence as tour guitarist being so thoroughly open and declared as it is these days at twenty years distance. Again, at first, I wondered whether including him in the line-up of band member photos in the brochure made sense given this album is a pre-Smear product. But, then again, this isn’t In Utero — this is an expanded package at twenty years distance and he’s a presence on the entire DVD element and the accompanying CD version of Live and Loud. He’s a legitimate presence on something that is fundamentally a 2013 item not to be confused or considered synonymous with the 1993 album that ‘inspired’ it and led to this thorough re-rendering.

Anyways, no comment on the songs, everyone will make up their own mind on the remixes and remasterings and demo-worthiness and so on and so forth. I admit I find the 2013 mix a fascinating concept; I’m usually suspicious of remixes because they reek of posthumous tinkering and artificiality. The exercise of inserting material recorded at the time but excluded, switching valid takes for others, that somehow seems to have more legitimacy and a value because what’s being delivered is more original music by the original band — not producer mix effects and not post-hoc material. In a small declaration, while Jack Endino was chatting at breakfast the other week he did say that Michael Meisel who was working on this for Universal, was really pleased to hear that some scrap of vocals was available on the January 1991 take of All Apologies – that made a decisive difference to whether it was included or not apparently, they wanted Kurt’s voice included where possible. In terms of the recording unfortunately, the original masters are lost and so what’s being worked with is a version the band asked for so that they could hear the songs as close to instrumentally as possible so they could examine the music – hence why Cobain’s vocals are pushed down so low. Just a little detail which I think it’s cool to mention at this point.

My big decision was whether to do what I did in 2004 and just listen to two songs a night or just to give up the ghost on that idea and swallow it whole…I’ll let people go find all the reviews online, there are tonnes – Pitchfork says great, another one says the package is just silly, others say the original album is great but they’re not sure about this or that element, what the heck, can’t please anyone. I’m still sitting here thinking its Christmas and that’s good enough for me. Thank you to whomsoever made it happen.

‘Since Last We Spoke’ In Utero Round-Up: Live n’ Loud DVD Revealed

The nicest thing about this In Utero release is that they’re doing a lovely job beating my expectations everytime new information emerges, it’s a lovely build-up to the actual release next month!

Rolling Stone have put up the full track-listing:


I’m looking back over the prediction from last week and gosh, it seems the version of Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle is the Laundry Room Studios version, lovely! Nice to see that.


The more exciting news for rare Nirvana song hounds, the latest information is that the ‘Forgotten Tune’ is an unreleased and genuinely unheard rehearsal session track from 1993. Now, OK, the fact it was never proceeded with, the fact they didn’t even remember it existed until recently doesn’t suggest You Know You’re Right or even Mrs Butterworth levels of genius…But to still be surprised twenty years after the fact? That’s a warm and fuzzy feeling for me. I’d still like to hear Lullaby someday, or settle the Song in D discussion, or hear the Sound City Sappy…But heck, something more from Nirvana’s late-era? I’ll take it! It’s doubly significant simply because so little is left dated after the early 1993 spell of creations.

The real boost is from the addition of the Live n’ Loud tracklisting for the DVD, the CD is purely the performance but the DVD has more than delivered on desires:


The Live n’ Loud rehearsals are a neat piece of unheard material, the Paris TV performance is a worthy addition and hopefully in better quality than I’ve been watching for years, one of the songs from Italian TV is a welcome presence (shame not to take the full performance but what the hell) and finally, the real surprise was the willingness to use the footage from the March 1, 1994 performance in Munich. Nice to see the rendition of My Best Friend’s Girl rather than just having the audio on bootleg.

So, that’s it – a final count up of 89 tracks when the 12 bonus DVD selections are included – of course the next hunt will be for Easter Eggs but we’ll get to that whenever information arises. Anyways, as ever, for the most up-to-date round-up join the Forum at LiveNirvana, virtually round-the-clock coverage and far more than one human being could ever do.

On that forgotten track issue, its bittersweet as with most moments of a long gone band, it’s lovely there are still surprises…But, the fact that its likely to be an instrumental of, at best, moderate sound quality is just the way the future is likely to be. That’s no reason to be saddened, no point being upset by reality – the cupboard is bare. And I’ll still be thrilled to hear whatever else is still to emerge from it. Years of bootleg listening and a taste for the noise scene has given me a high tolerance of static and hiss. More please! Bring on the Nirvana boombox boxset!

In Utero 20th Anniversary Track Listing: First Glance

A massive merci to Laurent Beck over at LiveNirvana (and a shoutout to the ever readable and engaging Mr. Adrian Karlson) for hunting down the post on Amazon.fr listing out what is likely to be (though not as yet confirmed to be) the track listing for the Nirvana In Utero Twentieth Anniversary Super-Deluxe. Here’s the link:

And here we go – note it doesn’t yet list the tracklisting of Live n’ Loud let alone the bonus DVD content – Disc One first:


You’ll note that where it says All Apologies/Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip twice over what I ‘think’ it means is track 12 All Apologies, track 13 Gallons… And now for Disc Two:


Now…You may notice a few oddities here, interesting huh? OK, All Apologies was not demo’ed in either October 1992 or January 1993 as far as is known thus making the January 1991 rendition the main known source…Though this does leave the door open to finding out that this is indeed the long rumoured ‘Song in D’ from the Nevermind sessions of 1991. We’ll see, I believe the former, I’d be fascinated by the latter.

Scentless Apprentice has been confirmed as coming from January 1993 while Very Ape wasn’t demo’ed until Rio in January making that a relatively easy judgment unless there’s an error in LiveNirvana’s so far flawless records. The five instrumentals from October 1992 were confirmed last week also so that’s an easy selection.

You’ll have noted that the slightly eccentric order in which the demos are positioned deliberately mimics the positioning of songs on the In Utero album thus ‘side A’ Scentless, Frances, Dumb then ‘side B’ Very Ape, Pennyroyal, RFUS, Tourette’s…Oh. Note the gap? Suddenly the listing diverts to Marigold then to All Apologies. This may be simply laziness or it may indicate that we’re looking at the early draft of All Apologies which is so different as to barely be recognisable as the same song, prior to the two oddities at the end.

Jam is, I’d assume, the jam from October 1992…But there’s no proof. Likewise, forgotten tune isn’t the same as ‘forgotten song’ so I’m not expecting a fully fledged You Know You’re Right moment, I’m expecting that either this is ‘The Other Improv’ again (much though I love it, God forbid) or this is Lullaby from February 1993…Or I’m completely clueless. It could also be that, remembering the attention to song order, we’re looking at Marigold (1990), All Apologies (Jan 1991), Song in D (mid-1991) then Jam (1992). Nice to know there’s some mystery left here…

Anyways, so, next count up:
Disc 1: 13 track original album, plus Marigold, MV, I Hate Myself & I Want to Die, Verse Chorus Verse (Sappy), plus different takes of Pennyroyal Tea, Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies – 20 tracks
Disc 2: 12 track original album, plus Scentless and Very Ape from Rio, 1990 Marigold, Word of Mouth instrumentals x 5, plus All Apologies (1991?) plus two unknowns = 23
Live n’ Loud: 17 tracks times two = 34, plus a clutch of bonus video footage
Total: a magisterial and impressive SEVENTY SEVEN
…And that’s even before we get to the bonus DVD footage. Time for plenty of smileys methinks. It’s getting better alllllll the time!

The Next Wait is for the Full Nirvana In Utero Track Listing…Ho Hum…


This is the actual summary from Mojo of the 20th Anniversary In Utero box-set (bought a copy at Waterloo Station last night). It actually lists five instrumentals, not the four believed the other day. That makes a tiny difference to the summary I suggested yesterday:

Disc 1: 13 track original album, plus Marigold, MV, I Hate Myself & I Want to Die, Verse Chorus Verse (Sappy) = 17
Disc 2: 13 track original album, plus SA from Rio, 1990 Marigold, Word of Mouth instrumentals x 4, plus Very Ape from…? = 20
Live n’ Loud: 17 tracks times two = 34, plus a clutch of bonus video footage
Total: 71 plus the bonus video material

That one addition reduces the chances even further of the January 1991 demos of All Apologies and Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, of Sound City Sappy (always a forelorn hope) or the missing and vaguely described Song in D, of the April 1993 Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, of the January 1993 covers of Seasons in the Sun and Onwards into Countless Battles and of either the full October 1992 jam or the February 1993 piece known as Lullaby.

Ah well! Still nice. Curious to see what the fresh mix of In Utero sounds like…I can’t get rid of my original CD of In Utero once I get this simply because it’s the second CD I ever owned (a gift from my aunt at Christmas), the first being the Nirvana Singles boxset I bought in November 1995 before I even had a CD player – God bless my parents for deciding to correct that.

Finally! Some Bloody In Utero 20th Anniversary Fact…



And for the record, give up on checking http://www.nirvana.com, it’s the most underused website online – just go to the Facebook page and/or join LiveNirvana because the guys there are stunningly well informed.

The crucial lines for me are, of course, “70 remastered, remixed, rare, unreleased and live recordings” plus “3-CD/1-DVD” and the nice teaser of “never-before-released bonus performances” – all due out on September 24, 2013. Nice…Nice…

What to expect? Well, getting the easy bit out of the way, MTV Live n’ Loud in DVD and audio…So that’s the following songs:

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, Drain You, Breed, Serve The Servants, Rape Me, Sliver, Pennyroyal Tea, Scentless Apprentice, All Apologies, Heart-Shaped Box, Blew, The Man Who Sold The World, School, Come As You Are, Lithium, About A Girl, then my favourite bit, the sprawling Endless, Nameless jam section.

That’s 17 songs…Double counted? I suspect so. 34 songs out of 70.

First disc is pretty obvious, the whole of In Utero’s 13 tracks, plus Marigold, MV, I Hate Myself & I Want to Die, Verse Chorus Verse (Sappy) – 51 songs…That leaves 19 to debate. Let’s add on the Albini originals of Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies, plus the Scott Litt mix of Pennyroyal Tea – 16 to go.

The Mojo article fills in a few more gaps; Scentless Apprentice from Rio de Janeiro, the original Dave Grohl demo of Marigold from 1990, four instrumentals (Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, Frances Farmer will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, Dumb and Tourettes) all from the October 1992 Word of Mouth sessions (seems that the Rape Me instrumental is either not there or was skipped off the list)…Ten songs left. Oh, I’ll leave aside what the bonus tracks are on the DVD…Not a clue.

I’ll leave it there – I’m actually pretty pleased by the sounds of this. I love the Endless Nameless section of Live n’ Loud and the inclusion of that set was a given. I’d be delighted to have Albini’s remix plus top quality editions of some of the stuff I’ve had on a bootleg a long time. The instrumentals makes me very happy and frankly I don’t think one can ever have enough of the early messier versions of Scentless Apprentice (I think the live feedback version from Brazil ’93 is wicked, likewise the take on With the Lights Out)…

I think we’ll see the instrumental of Rape Me from October 1992 plus the jam from that session which was previously seen in part on the WTLO DVD (great!) If the eight remaining songs contained the audio of Onwards into Countless Battles and Seasons in the Sun from Rio, plus that shred from February known as lullaby, maybe the earlier Laundry Room instrumental of Frances Farmer – neat. For completeness I’d ask for the January 1991 takes of All Apologies and Radio Friendly Unit Shifter – everyone knows by now that Sound City Sappy is never emerging but I’ll cross my fingers again here. More?

Heck, if I wanted to lose my mind then sure I’d say the ‘Song in D’ Sound City take. I’d lump on the July 1993 attempts to do an acoustic rendition of Heart Shaped Box too!

Ultimately, I won’t be greedy. It’s hard to resist, as a collector, the desire to pile in every take of everything – heck, I’m still listening to that massive Stooges boxset of every word and note from the Funhouse sessions…But ultimately I don’t want to end up sounding like that clip from The Mighty Boosh about the rare vinyl…So! Thank you Nirvana, sounds like a fun September ahead! THANK YOU!

And please just breathe and enjoy the glory of the Boosh…