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Nirvana

Killed By Indigestion.

Introduction
Bleach
Nevermind
Incesticide
In Utero
MTV Unplugged In New York  
By The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah

The Lineup Card 1988-1994:

Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar) aka Kurdt Kobain, etc.

Krist Novoselic (bass) aka Chris

David Grohl (drums, vocals) after 1990

Pat Smear (guitar) after 1993

Chad Channing (drums) until 1990

Nirvana will always be associated with the sad life and messy death of Kurt Cobain, no matter what anyone says about it. Just like, whenever anyone mentions John Lennon, one thinks of Mark David Chapman, or when one thinks of John Bonham it's choking on vomit, or Mama Cass it's kicking it on a sandwich, or Elvis Presley and his straining in the john with pocketfulls of pharmacy phun...when it's Kurt, it's heroin and self-inflicted shotgun wounds. And the alleged treachery of poster-girl junkie suspect crazed-psychobitch American wife Courtney Love, of course.

For a quick historical perspective, Kurt Cobain grew up in ultra-redneck Aberdeen, Washington with divorced parents and an uneasy home life. As a teenager he discovered punk music, left home, and spent time wandering about northwest Washington State, frequently homeless. Ending up in Olympia, he befriended local heavies The Melvins and became a fixture at their rehearsals...it wasn't long before Kurt himself formed a non-commercial group featuring himself on vocals and guitar, and playing his own songs. Nirvana were not ever in the top tier of late-80's Seattle-area bands, and were often mentioned far down the list from bands like Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Green River, and others, and their debut album for local label Sub Pop (who featured scene-favorites Soundgarden, among others) failed to make much of an impression. Nirvana soldiered on, gaining Washington D.C. area drummer David Grohl to cement their sound and enjoyed an improvement in Kurt's songwriting. This all led to being snatched up by David Geffen's DGC Records in early 1991 during the early rounds of major-label signings of Seattle bands, of which Alice In Chains were the first group of note. (The big money signings to major labels of the 'lesser' bands instead of the more established groups angered many of the superficially fame-eschewing Seattleites.) Geffen signed on pop-punk maestro Bruce Vig to produce their first major-label release, 1991's Nevermind. Nearly immediately after release, the single 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' blew Nirvana to the number one position and the Seattle scene became nationwide overnight. As even the most marginal underground bands were being offered unconscionable sums of money, Nirvana found themselves the Choice Of A New Generation, worshipped, analyzed, packaged, price-tagged and pigeonholed as a 'Grunge Band', selling out everything their name was associated with. Kurt was understandably shaken by this change in fortune, and was most distressed to see his audience change from being filled with people just like him to the type of people he always despised. His next step, besides taking copious amounts of heroin to throttle his neuroses and a naggingly painful stomach ailment and getting married to fellow junkie rockstar Courtney Love, was to consciously destroy his artistic persona with the release of Nirvana's third album, In Utero. Unfortunately it didn't work and the masses still loved and deified Kurt, so he took more drugs, had an OD, ran away from a treatment center, and finally perforated his head with both barrels of a shotgun in early April, 1994.

And since Kurt somehow became, pretty inexplicably (at least when you realise that Eddie Vedder's been crassly trying to win the title for years) and very much against his will, the 'Voice Of Generation X' (groan!), his death put the first nail into the coffin of the bullshit 'Alternative Nation' just like Altamont had driven a stake through the flaky heart of the Hippie movement 23 years before. As usual, most of the artists, record companies, press, and audience swallowed the whole marketing mirage that was 'The Grunge Movement' hook, line, and sinker, and in retrospect it looks like Kurt was the only one to view all this mass-marketing and idolatry as the poison it was. It only took one glance at what was happening on Madison Avenue ($200 flannel shirts sold at Bloomingdale's, to name one of the more moronic examples) and in the music business in the wake of Nirvana's success (singings of such bandwagon luminaries as the Stone Temple Pilots, the Lemonheads, and Bush) to see that something was pretty fucked up in 1993-ville. And since becoming less accessible didn't drive away the moshing jock last-week-Guns 'n' Roses, this-week-Nirvana morons from the audience, he just decided to remove himself from the situation in a way just a little more melodramatic than retiring as a reclusive painter in British Columbia, and in the process gave his public image the fuel to become a sort of disgusting t-shirt martyr for every kid who ever felt a little awkward at age 14. See, he was one of those punk nihilists who finally decided it was time to cash in his 'sell out' chips and do the most rebellious thing he could think of to do. Shoot himself.

But that's the surrounding bullshit. What about Kurt Cobain the songwriter? Any more, most people who care a little bit tend to discount the importance of Nirvana's recorded output as being totally derivative of the catchier side of the underground music world of the late 1980s. I personally know less than jack about American (OR British, for that matter) indie rock after about 1986 (when SST and Minneapolis started to suck, anyway), but I know from my wonderful Death to the Pixies compilation CD that Nirvana wasn't the first band to play slow, dynamically varying, big-guitar-ed poppy punk music on God's green earth. I also know from all my Husker Du records that combining metal heaviness and punk catchiness had been done before. And for fuck's sake, people have been whining about their parents and the damned unfairness of the world since long before Eddie Cochran belched out 'Summertime Blues', so don't even mention the message part. And smashing your guitars at the end of a performance? WHO would've thought of THAT?

So Nirvana's basic components were just about as new as lying to your parents, what was remarkable about the band was not Kurt's devotion to the 'punk ethos' AT ALL. It was the fact that he was one catchy, melodic sonofawhore! Not just anyone could write those simple, powerful little tunes like 'All Apologies' or 'Come As You Are' that no one had ever thought of yet. Even when he was trying to be totally hostile and inaccessible he somehow just couldn't shake his McCartney-esque melodic sense. Actually I think a lot of that 'losing the audience' stuff was bullshit. From day one, he pushed his band into commerciality just about as hard as someone possibly could. For a man who worshipped Flipper so goddamn much, he sure made his group sound like an MTV Buzz Bin special delivery. Drummer not snappy enough? Fire him and get one that sounds like John Bonham. Records not selling fast enough? Sign on with one of the biggest asshole capitalists in the entire music business, David Geffen! Want to ensure a hit major label debut? Grab the slickest, smoothest possible alt-producer you can, Butch Vig. Worried you may be losing your fan base to coattail riders like Pearl Jam? Appear on fucking MTV as OFTEN AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE! I mean, isn't it obvious this band was about as 'indie' and 'punk' as Foreigner?

Oh well, perhaps most people don't give a Flip Wilson 10 years down the road, but since this was the only real 'musical event' I ever lived through and witnessed, with bemused interest (but not fandom. In fact, I didn't hear Nevermind all the way through until like 1996. I was too busy with my Bob Dylan records at the time, thank you very much.), from beginning to end, I feel pretty inclined to say that Nirvana was and remains fairly important in this world of ours. For one glorious day back in late 1991, the hairspray and mousse aisle of the Rock 'n' Roll Drugstore was shut down entirely in favor of the deodorant section.

I think everyone felt pretty good about that. Except maybe Kip Winger.


Bleach - Sub Pop 1989.

Every band that's even close to being non-mainstream or having indie roots has one or more of these albums in their closets, ones that were recorded and released probably far too early in a band's history (for example, this one's got a different drummer on it, Chad Channing, who is average, but can't really hold a drumstick to Dave Grohl), before the songwriting really kicked in, before the band had enough money to make a decent sounding record, hey, before most of them had any frigging idea what they were supposed to be doing anyway. Think of the first Husker Du record of live hardcore ambient bullcrap, Black Flag's debut with that other singer guy, or that awful Mother Love Bone garbage that spawned Pearl Jam. Most of the time these albums are treated like bastard children and forgotten by the time the band hits the big bucks. But not Bleach, for when Nevermind hit in 1991 and new Nirvana product was not forthcoming, Sub Pop mounted a major re-release of this record and no doubt made a bundle.

And it's not like it would be difficult for this record to turn a profit, for as it proudly states on the jacket it cost just north of 600 beans to record and produce. And boy if you can't hear each and every one of those George Washingtons hard at work on this album...it's definitely the best-sounding album made for less than $700 I've ever heard. Sure beats the living crap outta my last $2.99-Maxell-cassette-tape-and-$1.99-40oz-of-Colt-45-making-a-grand-total-of-$4.96-not-including-tax guitar noise and screaming release. Just put on 'Love Buzz', the best cover version ever recorded of a Shocking Blue song (of 'Venus' fame, and of considerable popularity here in Russia, of all places) and tell me the Monkees raped by Black Sabbath self-description Nirvana used to use doesn't fit like a condom. That where one of the problems with Bleach lie, that everything sounds a mighty bunch the same as that description except instead of the Monkees I'd say the Bay City Rollers and instead of Sabbath I'd say Blue Cheer.

 The songs usually have a decent slow metal riff played in a really cool guitar tone (or series of weird tempo/chord changes anyway...see 'School'. This is grunge, so please downgrade your definition of 'decent riff' to a sub-Sab level.) a Stoogey/Flippery frigged up guitar solo, and some dumb, repetitive lyrics either intoned in Kurt's rednecky scrawl or screamed out as desperately as possible. So many of these songs are so damned slow I couldn't imagine metal fans really getting off on this (only 'Negative Creep' and 'Mr.Moustache' approach usual punk velocity, but even  they aren't any faster than your average Sex Pistols tune, meaning not particularly fast at all). The only thing to really change up the punches and give a hint to the future poppiness of the band is the two chord finger-popper 'About A Girl', which is pretty neato and reminds me a lot of the Vaselines stuff Kurt liked to cover so much later in Nirvana's career.

And, by the time 'Scoff' comes and goes, my attention is pretty well diverted by other things. It's pleasant hard rocking background, and I could name a few things worse to listen to than a good distorted guitar tone and Kurt's voice, but I'm not impressed by 'Swap Meet' and 'Sifting' sounds like we're totally searching for riff ideas (besides stretching out running times, which I HATE). So you may pick and choose different songs on here to love or loathe than I do, based on your specific circumstances and/or demographics and/or point in your biorhythmic cycle, but I think you will agree with me that while Bleach is a pleasurable listen on a low-level of brain engagement, listen too hard and you'll find yourself honking up and down the same patch of pavement a few too many times.

Capn's Final Word: You know, it is Nirvana in their base form, and you big fans will love it, but I wouldn't recommend it first.

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Nevermind - DGC 1991.

Here 'tis, the album that made 15 million probably white, probably suburban, probably rich, probably well-adjusted kids feel 'alternative' for a few months back in early 1992. Yes the Voice Of The X Generation, the Album Where Kurt Cobain Learned to Play Melodies, The Slickest 'Alt-Rock' Album In The West, It's Nevermind for chrissakes! The band has really grown by leapers and downers by the time this one came off the presses, and not only in financial terms. They've gained former Scream (Washington DC hardcore) drummer David Grohl to simulate Heavy Metal drumming as closely as possible, they're being produced by future Garbage-meister Butch Vig, who puts the emphasis on big, funky, heavy metal drumbeats and chorusy singing and getting quite possibly the cleanest dirty guitar sound I've ever heard. It's probably not easy to underestimate the effect Mr. Vig had upon the final psychological impact this mini-frisbee can lay upon your flimsy little high-school-and-divorce-weakened ego. Fucking try it. Its the voice of the sulky teenager! Who probably oughta just get a fucking job and stop expecting life to improve much! Because it doesn't! May as well make yourself useful!

You know, after my baby was born I've had to cut down the ol' reviewing quite a bit and by now it's gotten to be almost illicit. I pull out the notebook after my baby and wife have gone to sleep and hack away. Problem is that little Katia (Kickapoo as I call her, isn't that just precious?) is a little bothered by the typing noises and often has trouble sleeping until I turn the damn thing off. 9 weeks old and she's already finding ways of controlling my life and manipulating her soft hearted father. And you know how she tells me she's bothered? Not by crying, that'd be too obvious and crass...she grunts, smacks her lips, and spits out her pacifier and starts flailing her arms and legs around because, you know, she'd like to have that pacifier back in her mouth but has not (to date) yet mastered using her hands for doing very much than, well, flailing. So I have to pause my music, stop my train of thought, get up, set my feeties down on the cold wood parquet floor and pad over to her bed and pop that cork back in there. And god forbid if the wife wakes up because then it becomes a big deal and I should probably just shut the damn computer down and try to pass out. And if she doesn't, I just repeat that same situation until I just give up and fucking go to sleep.

See, that's being disenchanted. That's what life has in store for you after you forget all those stupid ridiculous things that happen in high school. That's what happens when you have no one to blame for where you are in life except for your own goddamn self. Not parents, not teachers, not 'the injustice of society'. All of those things will have ceased to have an effect (sheeeit, I'm a teacher!) and you find you still would like to sneak out and get wasted with your friends, or maybe screw that cute chick who works at the local dry cleaners, or at least raise hell for three or four hours but can't because of responsibility. Those are the ties that choke. Guess what? Still got homework! Still got authority figures breathing down my neck! But now, fucking up has a whole new dimension. Instead of risking an hour in detention on Friday afternoon, or at worst a night in the cooler, I can fuck up not only MY life but also those of my wife and LITTLE HELPLESS BABY GIRL CHILD if I screw up. Write an album for me, dammit!

But his album is pretty strictly for those damned kids with their damned kid problems. Shit, somewhere between age 20 and 21 I suddenly stopped being able to get the message on this album. Before that, it seemed pretty important, but now it doesn't. Maybe the sarcasm and irony got all shopworn so much in the ultra-ironic mid 90's that it done stretched out my tolerance. Because when this came out it hit hard, but now it seems pretty adolescent. Anyway, can you believe this album never even gets close to being punk rock until song 4 ('Breed')? Listening to it now, I'm pretty amazed how they let the heaviness get away from them compared to Bleach. Okay, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is a fucking amazing song for the first (exactly) 25 seconds, but then they've got to do that 'dynamics' thing. It improves immeasurably during the 'hello' section, and then the chorus kicks my ass again. And I love the way the solo area feedbacks in to tie it all together. But dammit, that 'quiet' verse part kind of sucks. Too much Kurt, too much manipulative radio 'meaningful' crap there. Okay. I just deconstructed the biggest song of my teenage years in (counting) 7 sentences. I didn't mention how much I love the sound of the drums when they just come in for the first time, and how each time the guitars on the famous chorus do their string-muted 'chucka chucka' thing little hairs on my neck stand straight up like the erect dog penis I saw today.

'In Bloom' again does the hard/soft thing, but this time with a sing-along chorus about how much the jocks don't get Nirvana music but like it and sing along anyway (I say that's pretty shmart, don't you? A singalong song about singing along. Coo.) The slower 'Come As You Are' strikes me as pure radio fodder, but catchy enough...but jeez, isn't this straying a bit far from the punk ethos you stand by so grandly? This song alone should be held responsible for Bush (the band) and the continuing conflicts in Palestine involving Bush (the president). 'Breed' and it's 'IdoncareIdontcareIdoncareblablahblah' blasts just about anything on Bleach for fastness and good-rockingness, 'Lithium' is a rewrite of 'In Bloom', but this time about general angst of the most irritatingly obvious kind. It's still demonically catchy, and the chorus is a real winner (even I can dig that one). For a changeup, 'Polly' is an acoustic ditty about a torture-rape of a young teenager, though it's pretty hard to tell that's what it's about. Okay, this is absolutely my least favorite song on here. Poop. I don't want a lame song about this heavy topic that does NOTHING for 3 minutes except make me feel yucky.

Side 2 begins with the Husker Du tribute 'Territorial Pissings', which is faster than 'Breed' and even gets my rocks off better...it's only on this one and 'Something In The Way' that Kurt really lets himself go, but in very different ways, given. So maybe 'Pissings' is just a rote hardcore punk song...he sounds so desperate on here that poppy stuff like 'Drain You' and 'Lounge Act', no matter how catchy it still is, sounds pale and plastic in comparison. 'Stay Away' has some similar power, and the bass part on the middle 8 is great, but the whole thing seems a bit of a repeat. I've also never exactly seen the necessity of 'On A Plain', except as a filler rewrite of 'Pretty Vacant', but again I love that middle 8 part. There's something to love in every tune here, it's just up to you to get up offa that fat thang of yours and find it. Like that long-ass guitar destruction hidden track 10 minutes after the end of 'Something In The Way'. Find that.

Oh, and the acoustic 'Something In The Way' is as harrowing as they come. It's about the time Kurt lived under a highway overpass before Nivirner got all big and rich. I'm glad he remembers and is still affected, and the tune is strong.

Shit, all these tunes are strong (except 'Polly', which is horrendous, and the hidden 'Endless, Nameless', which is far from being a 'song'). Its just when you pull out the fine-toothed comb does it get problematic. There's just too much slick compromising on here that I just don't like. I mean, this album was meant to sound like an FM radio hit, no matter how many screamy bits it has. Butch was no dummy, and Kurt was even smarter than that...this album is as calculated as they come. Pop-punk? But it is. And it's good, too.

Capn's Final Word: The right place at the right time with the right feelings and the right sound. That's this album. Maybe that time, that place, that feeling, or that sound has expired for you, but if not this is the album you need to get next.

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Incesticide - DGC 1992.

When Nya-verna hit the big time it was all Geffen could do to keep them rabid fans from laying waste to the whole of El Lay waiting for the new album to finally get finished, so they did the usual record-company thing to do in such situations and released previously-released material whose rights were bought by the company in The Big Major Label Sell Out of two years prior. And unless you happened to be buying up every various and sundry indie 7" that happened to ever be released in Seattle back in the late 80's, you probably don't own all of these already. Material the level of Nevermind? Psha. The level of Bleach? No worse, anyway. You get only one that smells like a ripoff, and that's a dumb punk-speed version of 'Polly' from Nevermind that loses all the drama of the slower version in exchange for a pocketful of stupid pogo energy. There's some covers, two by the Scottish duo the Vaselines ('Molly's Lips' and 'Son Of A Gun') which are catchier than Thai clap and clappier than a Thai catcher. Somehow the Vas's were able to write songs that were a LOT simpler than even Nirvana's but not lose even an iota of the catchy. Someday I'll review their cool The Way Of The Vaselines CD. Oh, and there's another cover, 'Turnaround', which must've been by Devo, but I could be wrong. It sticks out like a sore member on here because it's so doggone different and wonky, but good. Those Devo guys were pretty interesting. I should look into them more. For the Vaselines, you should look into more. For Devo, me.

The rest of the Nirvana-penned stuff runs from Bleach-y 1988 stuff to second-side filler Nevermind-era stuff. In the first case, 'Dive' is N at their most musically Sabby, but yet with a lighter beat. That ol drummer dude Chambers really wasn't all that grand, y'know? It was probably a good thing they got rid of him and got Grohl, and you can tell a major difference with the drumming on 'Sliver', which was recorded in 1990. 'Sliver' itself is pretty stoopid, and the refrain 'gramma take me home' repeated until you sing a rainbow I think illustrates this. And that's more or less how these songs stack themselves up. On one side you have the dumb 'grunge' Nirvana (and this was grunge in the strict musical definition of the word, as in poppy Black Sabbath riffing), and on the other you have stuff left off of the Baby Penis album that's almost self-consciously pop-oriented but more fun. 'Downer' reminds me of '85-era Sonic Youth with the spoken words and guitar dropouts, 'Hairspray Queen' is (bad) funk! 'Aero Zeppelin' makes fun of (good) mid-70's hard rock, but then turns gobberfast hardcore death metal (it's hilarious). And Kurt uses his Aberdeen he-yick accent aw-ul thuh tahm also.

Hey, but they really need to release another one of these with all the B-sides and comp-album stuff like 'Spank Thru'...I don't know how many people I knew in college who bought this one silly charity album that had a Nirvana song called 'Pay To Play' on it, which was seriously nothing more than Nevermind's 'Stay Away' with lyrics that said 'Pay To Play' instead of 'Stay Away'...talk about throwing your money away. But it was a charity, so maybe it was just throwing your money away but retaining a clear conscience afterwards. Anyway, what I'm saying is, they need to fucking rerelease the 'Marigold' b-side, which was on the flop of 'Heart Shaped Box' and is the only Grohl sung track with the Nirvana name on it. Fucking rules. Fuck-ing rew-ales.

Capn's Final Word: Collection of outtakes worthy of your purchase only if you can stomach that NONE of it sounds like the Well-Placed Sticker album. You may be surprised.

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Mike     Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: Mudhoney's Dan Peters was the drummer on "Sliver." Most of this stuff is fun enough, but only a few really reach noteworthy status, like the churning, brilliant "Anuerysm," which really should have been on "Nevermind," "Sliver," "Dive," the Vaselines covers, and the loopy "Hairspray Queen," which has to have the weirdest bassline I've ever heard in my life. "Mexican Seafood" sucks worse than a dentally challenged North Carolina Baptist, and "Downer" was already on "Bleach" and blew just as much there, but overall this is fun if not really essential. I wish "Marigold" had been here too.

 


In Utero - DGC 1993.

So close to earning the top grade you might be able to taste it, but for some reason I just couldn't give it away to In Utero. Perhaps it's because the A+ is reserved for, and I'm paraphrasing and generally badly quoting myself here, albums that either approach perfection in the effect their trying to create and the entertainment value used to get there, or are so jaw-droppingly groundbreaking and/or emotionally affecting that I have no choice but to bestow the gold ring. 'A' albums, by and large, are really great, entertaining, rocking, and blitzing good times, but I'd feel real weird if I gave that particular album by that particular band an A+. The  Take this album for instance. It's almost marvelously melodic and hard rocking, has a lot of emotional impact for people who are young and feel victimized in that sort of diffuse, hate-the-world-before-it-hates-you, replaces Bruce Vig's shiny monolith pop-hit production with a nicely spicy Steve Albini raunch I far prefer, and in general comes across as a provocatively intelligent, solid bunch of tunes without much pretense and with not too demanding entrance requirements. And I always get off on it like a package of 100% apple Jolly Ranchers. So what's the stick, Dick? Where's the prob, Bob? Why does it stick in my ass, Cass?

Because there's this sneaking feeling as I get older in this life that I find myself almost totally unable to relate to the state of confusion, pain, and all-around fucked-upedness that Kurt is trying so hard to get across here. I just don't often feel this bad about life, you know? I know some folks might, but this stuff is way too autobiographical There's a reason why he wanted to call the album I Hate Myself And I Want To Die and filled it with songs like 'Rape Me', halfway about a rapist getting his own once in prison, and halfway about Kurt's experiences with the press (and which starts with the same intro as 'Teen Spirit' just slightly altered...until the lyrics begin 'rai-ipe me....rape me my friend...rai-ipe me...rape me ag-ain' and pop that balloon, or 'Serve The Servants', half about his screwed up family and half about how 'teenaged angst has paid off well but now I'm bored and old'. What else sorts of funsies are spinning about like little Dervishes on this little lump of sweetness? 'Pennyroyal Tea' is about performing a home abortion by drinking this sort of herbal tea...which I hear doesn't really work, but it's a fine idea for a depressing-as-hell angst workout, isn't it?

In fact, I'd say 'Pennyroyal Tea' is sort of a litmus test for your tolerance of this sort of whine-rock in general. Speaking objectively, the song has about 3 chords, but mostly only about two, bases its verses on a slow, quiet, jaunty moaning of lyrics such as 'I'm on warm milk and laxitives...cherry flavored antacids', then blasts into a chainsaw ascending chorus that just begs to be screamed along with in the car after a particularly bad day at the library. Add in a reverbed guitar noise solo plucked straight from Neil Young and you've got it all. It's overly simplistic, more than a bit whiny, and doesn't go anywhere. But I also find it heart wrenching and gorgeous. You make the call yourself.

Musically, as stated in Paragraph A and illustrated in Figure 3.5: Bisection view of the post-mortem cranial chamber where severe perforation of the maxia and mandibula can be seen...here, this album isn't near as greasy as Drown Your Children One By One, but it's not a return to the Sabbing of Bleach, either. What I hear sounds quite a bit closer to Neil Young-esque overdriven chord rock: same lead guitar, same use of lots of minor chords, same plod. But darn it if it isn't catchy despite itself. And when it wants to be heavy, it's Osmium ('Scentless Apprentice' is FANTASTIC. Man, that Grohl can pound.) Supposedly they added former Germ guitarist (he's in Decline Of Western Civilization! The first one, not the second...that's a drunken Ozzy Osbourne in that one, and I can understand your mixing them up. Moron.) and smiley man extraordinaire Pat Smear to add depth and (is that his real name? It sounds SO close to pap smear, and the Germs were fronted by a gentleman with the totally ordinary name of Darby Crash, so I doubt it.) but who can tell in these modern days of tape overdub (developed in 1992), who exactly is playing what? Besides the fact that I couldn't tell two deconstructive punk/grunge/noise guitarists apart unless I knew for sure one was Bob Mould and the other one was, erm, Les Paul. And they aren't afraid to make it real random sounding either...'Milk It' is all over the playground. It goes 'wa-twank' at the oddest of places, but boy, it does it too. The only major musical misfires are both at the end, 'Radio Friendly Unit Shifter' is just a bunch of grating guitar squawls over a beat...see, it's a parody of a 'hit song'. Give it a beat and a chorus and people will buy it, see? Get it? GET IT!?!?!?!

Neither do I. And 'Tourettes' is simply hardcore and screaming...over the sofa and sorta neato to hear the thrash-metal lead notes that seperate one bout of screaming from another, but this is quite close to being a straight parody of Bleach, really.

Wanna hear the true difference between Wriggling For Dollars and In Utero? Take the big hit here, 'Heart Shaped Box'. The arpeggiated verse part is straight outta compton, dig, but the hard part on here is a lot more truly gicky than much of anything on Hey The Bubbles Aren't Supposed To Come From That End! I mean, it's heaving! It's screaming! Those guitars and basses just moan along, and that drum fill's as irritating as a Minister. Love the track though...'throw out your umbilical noose so I can climb right back?' Indeedy doodly. This album is loaded with ringer lines like that. 'She come back as fire...to burn all the liars...leave a blanket of ash on the GROUNNNNND!!!' ('Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle') may not look all that fantastic on your monitor screen, but Kurt twists and crunches the thing into an object of booty.

Gosh, maybe I overrated this thing, and probably was off my asshole when I said I was close to giving it an A+, but this is MY SITE, confound that motherfucking bridge, and I'm going to award an A to this, Kurt Cobain's big whine to the world.

Capn's Final Word: Thanks Kurt.

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Mike     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: "Very Ape" and "Tourette's" are shit, and I think "Rape Me" is completely overrated, but this is a brilliant album. "Scentless Apprentice" hits harder than '80's Mike Tyson on crack rock and "Heart Shaped Box" was one of the best singles of the '90's.

Pat Smear is not Pat's real name, and yes, he did name it after a pap smear, cause he thought it was the most disgusting thing he'd ever heard of (guess Richard Simmons wasn't around at that point). His real name is Georg Ruthenberg and damn if I wouldn't call myself Pat Smear too with a moniker like that.

"Pennyroyal Tea," "All Apologies," and "Dumb" are all better on "Unplugged" partially because they don't sound like they were recorded in the janitor's closet and partially because the performances are better, but overall this album is great.

 


MTV Unplugged In New York - DGC 1994.

Nirvana really did make a fantastic Unplugged show, and they actually did it unplugged, more or less (that distorted part on 'The Man Who Stole The World's intro lick isn't some weird plucking trick, you know, but the rest is pretty much au naturel) which is more than I can say for Mr. Bruce 'I Didn't Read The Title Of The Show Before Taping' Springsteen. And I hear that Kurt 'I Wore The Best Fucking Sweater I Could Find' Cobain and the boys were real scared before taping this as well. In the end they only screw up once or twice, but at least this shows that the taping really was done live, one take. Other bands liked to do a few takes of each song, thus boring the shit out of the studio audience and taking all the spontaneity out of the thing. Not our Nirvana tho, they do it manually and lets give 'em a hand for it. Of course, it's awful hard to screw up 'About A Girl' seeing that it has TWO FRIGGING CHORDS on it....but oh yeah, I mentioned that particular song because what Nirvana did here was play their non-hits mostly ('Come As You Are' was a hit, and I'm darn sure I heard 'All Apologies' on the ol' Modern Rock station a few times way back when) like, fer instance 'About A Girl'. So all the audience members go 'Whooo!' and then 'Wha?' when they hear this opener from Bleach come out. The rest of the Nirvana-writs aren't so obscure (that's the only one from Bleach, anyway), but if I were making a setlist for a Nirvana concert, 'Dumb' and 'On A Plain' would probably not get consideration, and I'd sure as Hank leave 'Polly' offa there, but that's just because I have a personal vendetta against that particular song that has ended up, in one form or another, on FOUR of the six Nirvana regular album releases. Why? A nasty rapist's first-hand account set to languid strumming and featuring some honest-to-goodness stomach-turningly depressing lyrics ('Polly wants a cracker...I think I should get off her first'...Jesus! That's awful!) HAS to be played at every concert, especially after, in the liner notes to Incesticide, Kurt expresses grief and disdain that there actually WAS a rape case where a bunch of teenage jocks chanted the lyrics to that song while gang-raping a girl? I don't get it, someone explain. The song blows! It incites stupid people to horrifying violent sexual assaults! X stopped playing their song about assaulting women (shit...I forget the name. 'Jonny Hit And Run somebody-or-other') when they noticed audience members cheering the antagonist along at their shows. Shouldn't Nirvana have laid the Polly to rest?

Whew. Luckily I love 'Pennyroyal Tea' so much it wipes that ugly spot right outta my consciousness, and 'All Apologies' ends up the main set with a strange feeling of foreboding of future events. Moreover, the entire show, as the last major project Nirvana ever produced (together) for public consumption, has a real weird feel about it, especially in retrospect. The stage set, with its large number of candles and flowers, looked like a funeral more than anything, and the choices of 'All Apologies' ('married...buried'), 'Come As You Are' ('and I swear that I don't have a gun'), 'Lake Of Fire' ('where do bad folks go when they die? They don't go to heaven where the angels fly!') , and 'Pennyroyal Tea' ('kill the life that's inside of me') all fit the morbid tone quite well. But then, there's some rather glaring exceptions ('Jesus Don't Want Me...' with its 'Don't expect me to lie, don't expect me to die for thee'), so maybe I'm just a-talkin' some smack.

And golly am I happy with the covers on this record. Two Vaselines songs ('Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam', one of the prettiest bitchy songs created by modern man, and Krist 'I Don't Know How To Pronounce Your Last Name, is it No-VO-sel-ic, NO-vo-sel-ic, or No-vo-SEL-ic?' Peterson gets to crank it out on the squeezebox on that one, and also...oh wait, there's only one Vaseline's song. Well forgive the pee-wad outta me.) a David Bowie non-hit ('The Man Who Sold The World'...how many times did YOU hear that one before this album came out? Okay, I admit I had owned the Bowie album of the same name for a few years already, but most folks went 'David who?'), and, erm, three Meat Puppets songs featuring the two real MP brother guys on guitars you can't hear. All three songs are from Meat Puppets II, and all three sssssssslower 'n snot and twice as repetitive. Again, Nirvana misses an A+ on a technicality (not so narrowly this time, to be honest), and here it's the fact that while these songs ('Plateau', 'Oh Me', and ''Lake Of Fire') are okay, they're definitely not as hot 'n' bothered as the Kurt originals. I know they were touring with the Puppets when they taped this and wanted to throw their indie pals a bone, but three songs? Definitely the low point in the show, excitement-wise. (Oh,and 'Polly's inclusion also prevents me considering an A+, because its a pretty major fuck-up, I say) It ends good, though, with Leadbelly's 'In The Pines' (aka 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?'), and Kurt brings it on home with his shredded yelp...it really is a mother of a swan song from this band.

Capn's Final Word: Essential, and shows us the power of the tunes and the ability of the band to put them across without the amplification/smashing/bashing/screaming. If you miss the amplification/smashing/bashing/screaming, read on.

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From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah - DGC 1996.

As I Quaaluded above, this here is the final piece of the Nirvana puzzle, and the only true post-suicide cash-in for the other two (three? Does Pat Smear get royalties?), but I can easily forgive that because it's obvious people might need an electric live Nirvana record in addition to their acoustic live Unplugged record (and I mean record...I have both of these on vinyl. That's right! I have the mysterious vinyl-only 'fourth side' of Wishkah, which is simply a bunch of silly crowd noise and announcements. Hey, it was free. But then again so is the clap.) And dontcha go thinkin' this is some sort of a complete concert like Unplugged, neither, because this is that most spotty of live beasts, a 'career live retrospective', with some stuff from as far back as the early 1991, pre-breakthrough tours. And, of course, lots from the latter-day fucked up drug overdose years of 1993 and 4. But what am I talking about? You wanna know if it RAWKS doncha? Sure it does! Kurt Cobain was a real little titfest in a teapot on stage, playing his mighty-big Pete Townshend-esque guitar heart out with one side of his brain and screaming like hellhounds were writing him parking tickets with the other. Grohl pounds and you can usually actually hear Novoselic. Can't hear Smear too much though, but who gives a flyfisherman? I don't. That dyed-hair goofball-of-unknown-ethnic-origin (have you ever noticed that its usually quite difficult to tell the ancestry of most musicians who come outta LA? What the hell is Slash, an Iranian?) sweved a marginal purpose in this band anyway. Face it, the star of the show was Kurt, and it's his voice and guitar you're paying attention to.

Songs? 'Drain You' gets a whole new lease on itself, 'Aneurysm' and 'Spank Thru' (an orphan track that forced hundreds of thousands of kids to buy an old Sub Pop comp album to get the one Nirvana track they didn't already have) are saved from relative obscurity, and 'Spank Thru' is a totally out of character Tommy-era Who (not the chorus...that sounds like, erm...the Butthole Surfers, I guess?) sounding masterpiece that's worth buying Wishkah for alone. 'Scentless Apprentice' is buzzed through superfast, and gains from the experience, 'Heart Shaped Box' is given a religious, studio-quality reading, but 'Teen Spirit' can't wait to be through with itself. I guess they really did have trouble dealing with playing that song...why have to play that when you can play FUCKING 'POLLY' AGAIN?!??!?

Anyway, I guess the main thing I bring away from this is the fact that there are so darned few surprises. They give you good energy, play well, the quality is good (but not too good), but nothing is revealed here. And the grade for well-made and well-intended live albums that don't do much is a B+.

Oh yeah, there's seriously shitloads of Nirvana bootleg live concerts I've seen in my years, and some of 'em are really good. Search out something called Roma if you want a complete, In Utero-era show that has more tracks and better sound than even Wishkah. Another one called Live In Seattle 1991 (with a b&w instrument destruction photo on the cover, I thinks) sounds much worse. But probably since the mid 90's is now long-past and Nirvana fever has died down quite a bit it may be difficult to find those for all the silly Radiohead and Dave Matthews Band live 'imports' you have to dig through nowadays.

Capn's Final Word: Unless you missed 'Spank Thru' completely or need a reminder that Nirvana was one of the more vital and human bands of the last 15 years, Wishkah will sound like Just Some More Nirvana.

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