Nirvana releases a hit and miss
By David Hartwig
Scene Music Critic
The recently released self-titled album by one of the `90s' greatest bands has its high points, but leaves one feeling empty and unsatisfied. The first track, "You Know You're Right," is the only new material on the 14-track album, and it truly is a stroke of genius. It was the only song recorded during an ill-fated session in January of 1994.
In the throes of his battle with heroin addiction, former lead singer Kurt Cobain missed the first few days of the session. All was not lost, though, as drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic used the time to record and experiment with some of Grohl's songs. Several of these tunes would later appear in the repertoire of Grohl's post-Nirvana band the Foo Fighters. When Cobain finally showed up, the band recorded "You Know You're Right" in one take, with Cobain laying down only a few additional vocal and guitar tracks later that day.
Perhaps this song is even more poignant as it is the last known studio recording of the brilliant-but-tortured singer/songwriter. Cobain committed suicide just four months later. For this reason alone, this disc is a must-have for all Nirvana fans and dedicated followers of what would unfortunately become known as the Grunge movement. The rest of the album, however, leaves something to be desired.
Rather than a truly great collection of songs, this short CD is just a compilation of "radio Nirvana." The new disc has four tracks drawn from Nevermind, their breakthrough and most radio-friendly album. This makes the album seem more of a tribute to the industry powers that drove Cobain into depression and addiction than to the band that captured a generation and became the catalyst to a pop culture movement.
Surrounded by more legal buzz than musical hype, the release of this album remains controversial. Rumors abound of battles and legal settlements between Cobain's widow Courtney Love and Geffen Records, between Geffen and Novoselic and Grohl and between Novoselic and Grohl and Love. Originally a band that strove to fight the establishment with its music, this release is so embroiled in legalese and million-dollar deals that Cobain's memory, and the memory of Nirvana is sullied.
Compound this with the coming release of Journals, a book of Cobain's personal writings and diaries, and it becomes apparent that Nirvana's message did not sink in. It is rumored that Cobain's estate (Courtney Love and their daughter) received at least $4 million for the rights to the book. Though it may give us more insight into Cobain's tortured mind and incredibly powerful music, it is sure to tell us that this kind of invasion of privacy is precisely the reason for Cobain's depression.
Nevertheless, listening to this CD brings back memories of Airwalks, skateboards, long hair, baggy jeans and ugly plaid flannel shirts for those who came of musical age in the early `90s. For that reason alone, it may be worth buying. To date, Nirvana is likely the most influential band in modern pop/rock/punk/alternative music since the Beatles. And with the perversion of capitalism aside, the band should be remembered as such. Critics, both musical and cultural, will likely debate this and the effect of Cobain's suicide on music and pop culture for years to come, but this reviewer can only say go buy the album, crank it up and remember the old days.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, November 19, 2002