I could tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news that Kurt Cobain died, but we’ve all heard the stories before. I could go into a history of the Olympia / Aberdeen / Seattle band, but that’s been covered as well. I will merely say that I moved to Seattle three years ago, and even though grunge has come and gone, the Emerald City still belongs to Kurt. Hundreds upon hundreds of bands have come from this city, but none have had the impact, or the half-life of Nirvana. Maybe it’s the whole tortured soul thing, maybe it’s as Chuck Klosterman says in his latest book, that the `greatest career move any musician can make is to stop breathing.’ Or then again, maybe it’s the music. With only three albums and a whole lot of mystique, Nirvana still remains a collector’s dream / nightmare with hordes of obscure singles, b-sides, bootlegs and live recordings. You would have thought that With the Lights Out, the 3 CD box set that came out last year would have filled in the gaps, but not quite yet. The latest milking of the Nirvana legacy is Sliver, billed as the `best of the box.’ For those who couldn’t afford the box set, Sliver is easily more digestible and affordable. For those who did end up forking out the dough for the box, the inclusion of three unreleased tracks will try to entice you to buy this one.
The CD opens with one of those unreleased tracks in “Spank Thru,” previously only available on the Sub Pop 200 compilation from 1998, and a live version on From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, this version from 1985 when Kurt Cobain and Dale Crover (of the Melvins) were called Fecal Matter. This is one of the first known recordings of Cobain and as such has been hugely sought after. The eighteen year old Kurt comes off like Iggy Pop in his early singing style, but all the talent was there, you can sense it. The second `new’ track is “Sappy,” which used to be called “Verse Chorus Verse,” appearing originally as a hidden track on the No Alternative benefit compilation. The studio demo of this song is just as stunning as the original, if not more so. The third and final unreleased track is a `boom box’ version (a demo recorded in Tacoma just before the official Nevermind recordings) of “Come As You Are.” The song is amazingly fully formed at this point, months before they were to go into the studio to record.
Chances are, if you’re a Nirvana fan, you will already have most of the songs on this compilation. But, just in case you don’t, this CD is worth the asking price for just a few songs that merited inclusion. The home demo of the title track, a song about Kurt’s abusive home life with his repetition of “grandma, take me home,” is eerie. In this acoustic version, the song hits home even harder than when he screams the chorus. “Oh the Guilt” was a single that Nirvana split with the Jesus Lizard in 1992. There is so much pent up energy in this song I can hardly stand it. I’m glad that I have it now, but I wished I had this single back in the day. It might have been cathartic. The two versions of “Rape Me” which appear on Sliver are also intense. The `home demo’ is an acoustic version with slightly different lyrics. If you can, try to look them up online, they’re far more potent and I almost would have preferred to hear this version on the album. The acoustic version of “You Know You’re Right” is also amazing. A demo recorded after they recruited second guitarist Pat Smear, this song’s full version finally saw the light of day with the greatest hits compilation, Nirvana. Finally, for those who thought the “Unplugged” Leadbelly cover, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” was mind blowing, there is another Leadbelly song included, from “The Jury” sessions that featured Cobain, Mark Lanegan and Mark Pickerel (both then of the Screaming Trees), “Ain’t It a Shame.”
I remember distinctly in the summer of 1994, mere months after Kurt Cobain’s death, I attended Lollapalooza in Southern California with friends. Between sets, fans would come and go depending on who was playing next. After Green Day left and before Nick Cave was to play, there was a sea of obnoxious skaters weaving through a sea of lanky pale people wearing all black. Yet, through all that, there was a moment when everyone joined as one, when over the loud speakers came the song “All Apologies.” Tastes were forgotten, etiquette set aside, differences forgotten, as thousands of voices in unison screamed, “Married! Buried! Yeah yeah yeah yeah!” I’m glad of this CD for at least helping me to remember that moment.
Nirvana- With the Lights Out
Various Artists- Hype! soundtrack