The new Nirvana box set has finally hit stores, and for serious fans
of the band, the long wait is finally over. In planning since 1998 or
earlier, the box set was held up by legal battles between Kurt
Cobain’s widow Courtney Love and surviving band members Krist
Novoselic and Dave Grohl. Included in the collection are 3 CDs and a
DVD, which encompass a wide variety of unreleased material from the
The first CD of the set goes back towards the very beginning of the
band, and includes recordings from 1987 – 1989. Some highlights from
the first CD find Kurt Cobain singing the blues on a cover of the
obscure song by Ledbelly called “They Hung Him On A Cross”. Cobain
was a fan of Huddie Ledbetter, who was an influential blues guitarist
that lived from 1885 – 1949. The band is also heard playing Led
Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” at one of their first shows in 1987. Some
rarities and unknown songs are included on the first CD, most
particularly interesting is a song called “Mrs. Butterworth”, which
lets fans hear a totally weird and experimental side to the band.
Overall, the first CD gives us a glimpse of the early days of a band
that would eventually become extremely influential to so many people.
The second CD includes some Nirvana rarities, now finally given a
proper release. The songs here were recorded from 1989 – 1992,
leading up to, and in some cases recorded, during the making of the
band’s classic album: Nevermind. Some of the songs here were also
previously unknown to exist in studio form. Odds and ends like
“Opinion”, “Here She Comes Now” (A Velvet Underground song), “Old
Age”, and “Verse Chorus Verse” give us an idea of how talented Nirvana
was, and how some of the songs they chose not to release at the time
still sound amazing even if they were considered flawed or not up to
par at the time. The studio recordings of “Old Age” and “Verse Chorus
Verse” are particularly pretty amazing sounding. Fans will also enjoy hearing a different studio mix of Smells Like Teen Spirit done by Butch Vig, as well as acoustic versions of “Sliver” and “Lithium”.
On the third and final CD we get to hear the band during their final
days and the material that they worked on from 1992 to 1994, before,
during, and after the recording of Nirvana’s final studio album “In
Utero”. The song “Rape Me” appears twice at the beginning of the CD.
One is a solo acoustic performance from 1992, and the other is a demo
from the same year. The demo of this song is particularly striking
when you hear the cries of a baby girl, apparently Kurt Cobain’s
daughter, at the beginning of the song. It’s sad to think of what
Kurt left behind when he died. The really amazing song on here is the
solo acoustic called “Do Re Mi”, which was recorded sometime in 1994,
probably a few weeks before Kurt’s death. The song is really amazing
and gives us just a glimpse at what the next Nirvana album might have
sounded like. Fans also get a treaty by being able to hear an early
demo of “Heart-shaped Box” in studio form, as well as acoustic
versions of “Serve the Servants”, “Very Ape” and “Pennyroyal Tea”. A
few b-sides here and there are also included.
The DVD tracks the band from the very start of their career to the
end. For many people who buy the box set, this might be the first
time they get to see what Nirvana was like in concert. This is
somewhat significant since the band has often been credited as being
even better live than on their albums. The video portion of the box
set shows us some rare songs, including a live version of “Talk To
Me”, an unreleased song that, according to Courtney Love, was written
for Iggy Pop and given to him after Kurt’s death. The band’s first
ever performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit is notable, along with the
first show that drummer Dave Grohl played at. The DVD includes one of Nirvana’s first gigs in 1988 at bass player Krist Novoselic’s mother’s house. Between each song, fans are shown a glimpse of home
recordings, here and there, of the band on the road during the early
days of their career. The DVD ends with the song “Seasons In The
Sun”, recorded at a studio in Brazil in January 1993. Kurt is seen
playing drums, with Dave Grohl on bass, and Krist Novoselic on guitar.
Clips are shown of the band having a good time and joking around.
This is sad considering what would happen less than a year and a half
after they recorded this song.
The book included is 60 pages, and includes liner notes that were
written by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, one of the people who
inspired Kurt Cobain to make music. This is a fitting tribute to the
band, which really took the music they were influenced by and turned
it into something creative and refreshing.
Overall, the box set is a great look into what the “real” Nirvana was
like. If you are buying this box set as a first time thing, never
hearing the band’s studio recordings, chances are you may not get it.
After listening, it becomes clear that this collection was designed
for long-time fans who really wanted to be able to hear a lot of
unreleased stuff from the band. Not only that, but I think that this
release really shows us the human side of Nirvana. While MTV and most of the rock world has recognized Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, in
particular, as some sort of rock icon, what this box set shows us is
that they were also real people who tried hard to make music that they
and their fans could relate to. If you’re buying the box set
expecting to get a bunch of Nirvana’s hit songs, don’t do it. There’s already a “Greatest Hits” record that you can buy. What this box set is really about is what Nirvana was always about: the fans and the music.