Thursday, December 13, 2012

Introducing The Nirvanas Anthology

I wrote this shortly after the first Beatles Anthology was released in 1995. I salvaged this from my archives after Wednesday's unexpected merger between Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana. Sadly you have to be both a Beatles nerd and a Nirvana fan for this article to make much sense. This is an edited version that better reflects modern attention spans.
Introducing the Nirvanas Anthology
Much of the excitement surrounding the Nirvanas Anthology has to do with the brand new song entitled "In Stereo" and the circumstances surrounding its recording. This song began in the form of a four-track demo recorded by Kurt in the early 1990's, and was given to the two and a half surviving Nirvanas by widow Courtney Love. Enlisting the help of famed Nevermind producer Butch Vig, they transformed the demo into a high quality Nirvanas recording with bass, drums and plenty of "grunge" guitar. When asked about "In Stereo," Butch Vig commented, "It's a sort of love song. When I say that, I mean it's a song about happiness and holding hands, as opposed to a Courtney Love song. It's a beautiful tune and they all do great harmonies with Kurt."
Unbeknown to most, the tape's poor quality meant that Pat Smear was forced to imitate Kurt's voice for some portions of the song.
Dave Grohl, the Nirvanas drummer said, "It was a nice change. In the olden days, Cobain always had complete creative control. This time we all were given a chance to throw in our two cents worth. I think that if Kurt was still alive, and provided that he wasn't so strung out on heroin that he couldn't remember his own name, he'd really like ‘In Stereo.’ ”
Krist Novoselic was less eager about the project, but eventually agreed to lend his assistance, saying "I plan to use most of my royalties to continue the fight against music censorship. The rest will go towards finally finding a barber who can give me a decent haircut."
"In Stereo" was recorded at Shabbey Roads studio near Berlin, Washington. Coincidentally enough, this studio is located a mere two blocks away the Top Heavy Club, where the Nirvanas spent their formative years developing and honing the sound that millions of teenage girls and boys would cling to like leeches a scant few years later.
Here is just a teaser of the 45 tracks that compose Anthology One:
Let's Get Ugly - A Vaselines cover taken from a 1988 Sub-Pop compilation. This was recorded when the band was still known as the Silver Nirvanas.
Flannel Fields Forever - Takes 9, 12, and 34 - These tracks are different takes of Flannel Fields Forever. The album version was a patchwork quilt of takes 2, 25, and 78 which were digitally grafted together to create the finished song. Here, for the first time, can be heard some of the other takes that Cobain originally conceived and how this song could have sounded.
I Like Myself and Wouldn't Mind Living - An early demo of the song that would become "I Hate Myself and Want to Die." Listen carefully and you can hear Dave shout "Cranberry sauce" at the end of the song, for reasons that have yet to be explained properly.
Scoff - An alternative take of this song from the Bleach album, featuring the drumming of former Nirvanas member Chad Channing. Controversy over the reasons for Channing's firing on August 16th, 1990, shortly before the recording of their breakthrough album Nevermind, continues amongst music academics to the present day. Channing argues that he was a better drummer, but that Grohl was hired because his look and sound more closely fit the Nirvanas mould. Also worthy of note is that at the end of this track can be heard what sounds like "K is gone." This would be used as a piece of evidence in the 'Kurt is dead' rumour of October 1990, after he was involved in a mountain bike accident.
Other "proof" included the fact that hair obscures Kurt's face on the album cover, coupled with the odd spelling of Kurdt Kobain. All this helped create a rumour that Kurt had died and had been replaced by a look-a-like. (Possibly Mark Arm.) These "Kurt is dead" rumours reappeared in 1991, 1992, 1993 and again in 1994 in Rome until he finally put an end to the rumours once and for all by committing suicide.
Opinion - This Cobain song was given to Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees. Mark lost the song in a poker game. It then passed through a number of hands, including Conan O'Brian, Yassir Arafat, the Emperor of Japan and Mark Lanegan (again.) However, by this time, the song had become disgusted with Mark's carelessness, and changed its tune, becoming a country western ballad.
Heart-Shaped Box - This features the original Steve Albini production and highlights the Nirvanas innovative use of loud guitars and even louder drums. While some consider Albini the fourth (or is that fifth?) Nirvana, he has maintained a discrete distance about his work on the album, and has continued to insist that the Scott Litt remix on "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies," coupled with a bad mastering job, ruined the immediacy and rawness of the songs.
I Can Scream Louder Than Love (The Ballad of Kurt and Courtney) - A song co-written by Love and Cobain about the trials and tribulations of two successful rock n' roll musicians trying to raise a child and live out a normal life, even though their every move is being observed under the media's microscope. It also addresses their numerous and well publicised shouting matches and neighbour-awakening arguments. Their touching harmonies and harsh screaming all combine for an aural treat. If one listens carefully, the plaintive cries of the youngest and most promising member of the Nirvanas, Francis Bean, can be heard just before the second bridge.
Workin' for The Man - A song that was recorded during the In Utero sessions. The Eastern flavour of this song is believed to have come from Novoselic's dabbling in Eastern religion and philosophy. Novoselic at one point even visited the Mahesh Yogi for insights into life. This reaction against Christianity is believed to have stemmed in part from Cobain's controversial claim of 1992 that "The Nirvanas were bigger than Jesus." This turned out to be a misquote by interviewer Maureen Cleave. When she finally owned up to her mistake, three months later, she apologised profusely and publicly corrected the error, saying that Kurt had actually said, "Jesus Christ! Why is there such a big fuss over the Nirvanas?"