Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Longwinded and Personal Review of Nirvana's 20th Anniversary Release of Nevermind

Occasionally an outside influence dramatically alters your world perspective. In my life, this was the case with Nirvana. My friend Nick introduced me to Nirvana in 1998, long after the group had already supernova’d into the pages of rock and roll history. I was roughly 12 at the time and had just begun my fascination with rock music after hearing the “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” soundtrack. Nirvana’s punk-rock attitude and aesthetic grabbed me by vicious force, and quite honestly I have not been the same since.

It didn’t take a full year before Nick and I owned and memorized their entire studio album collection. During this time of collecting, our mutual aquantaince Jamie informed us that his brother had purchased an illegal album of Nirvana’s unreleased material, and that he actually owned VHS recordings taken from Mtv the day Kurt died. We borrowed these tapes, rigged together a series of VCR’s, and made our 2nd generation tapes of an already staticy cable broadcast (of which I still own).

After replaying these tapes an uncountable multitude of times, we began to search out these “illegal albums” of unreleased material. We stumbled upon a company selling Nirvana bootlegs called the “Outcesticide Collection” out of the back of a Guitar World magazine for $30 a piece. So we decided to take the risk. So we blindly sent them the cash, and nearly a month later, they mailed back a Xeroxed album cover and a CD-R…. and we couldn’t have been happier.

Since those days, I have completed my collection of rare/unreleased Nirvana material as there is only so much they recorded in those days. The only thing I have to look forward to is releases like this, Nirvana’s “Nevermind 20th Anniversary edition”. Yes, I already owned the album, yes I already owned the Smart studio sessions and live album contained on this set, but the difference is, now they don’t sound nearly as shitty. In essence, that 13 year old boy who was happy spending what was a huge amount of money on a shitty CD-R is still content to rebuy material he already owns, so long as it is by Nirvana.

So what do we get with this set? A remastered album finally complete with B-sides, a CD of rehearsals and outtakes, a version of the album mixed entirely by Butch Vig, and the long bootlegged “Halloween” show from Seattle. So, for shits and giggles, here is my review of the album which will be much more precisely written that the introduction piece.

Disc 1: Nevermind (Essentially a Remastered Directors Cut)-
The album’s remastering treatment sounds great, but honestly, who wouldn’t expect it to? Not much more to say other than the album sounds more crisp and clean than ever, however, with a box this size and for this price, I wish that it had came with uncompressed audio by way of a Bluray format, perhaps even a 5.1 mix of the album would have been a happy addition. However, it is great to finally hear this album without the giant negative space between “Something In the Way” and “Endless, Nameless”. The B-sides are a welcome addition to the album that I feel is LONG overdue. These songs sound better than ever thanks to the remaster. Hearing the aggression in these songs when in comparison to the final album, you see that they clearly chose to leave them out and go in a much more radio-friendly direction for the majority of the album.

Final Thought: All in all, I would love 5.1 mixes and completely uncompressed sound, but I’ll take what I can get and purchase the vinyl version for my uncompressed needs.

Disc 2: Live, rehearsals, and outtakes:
First let me say that this is the best these songs have ever sounded, I’m glad that we finally got clear, crisp versions of the entire Smart Studio sessions. Unfortunately I’ve been hearing these songs for decades and it is nothing new to me, but I’m glad they are freely available to up and coming Nirvana fans that will not have to search out the earliest generation of these recordings possible (which I might add is fucking hard to do with the advent of the modern MP3 and peoples habit of ripping an already ripped CD effectively murdering the quality). I love hearing the “Boombox Rehersals”, I had a copy of them before, and as bad as they sound on this release, the ones I had heard before were utterly unlistenable in comparison. Glad to hear these early versions with alternative, if not hard to understand, lyrics. The BBC songs are also a nice addition to new fans.

Final Thought: I already owned these, but I am incredibly happy to finally hear the best versions of these possible, and I’m happy that the band can finally make a profit off of these songs.

Disc 3: The Devonshire mixes
This has been billed as a “Butch Vig only” version of the album, this implies that he wasn’t happy with the original mixes of which he took part in, and I think that’s a misnomer. With that said, these remixes are very interesting, he seems to have taken the songs that were previously and purposefully radio friendly and muddied them up a bit, making them more aggressive, which is intriguing. Much more intriguing to me here is that he seems to have taken the “uglier” songs, and cleaned them up a bit. The best example of this is “Territorial Pissings” in which he removes the off key intro, has seemed to actually used a guitar track that was plugged into an amp (the original version had the guitar’s distortion pedal plugged directly into the input of the mixer).

Final thought: I used the adjective “intriguing” several times as it is thought provoking to hear how else this album could have turned out. However the result is too close to the original for most to care, a more original concept would have been to let Steve Albini (who got kicked off of working on “In Utero” because it was turning into a “anti-commercial noise fest”). This would have been a much more ballsy move by the creators of this box, and one of which would have greatly interested the listener.

Disc 4: Live at the Paramount Theater
This show has what is in my opinion the best version of “Jesus doesn’t want me for a sunbeam”. I find the electric version much more stimulating than the unplugged simply because the song no longer feels melancholy, and instead feels angry in the lyrics. Past that, this is an excellent example of Nirvana live, but my absolute favorite concert is the Reading Festival that was released earlier this year. It finds Nirvana much more playful with the audience and Kurt seems to be enjoying himself…. A true rarity.

Final Thought: The CD version of this is great, but the Bluray version is SO much better. This is the ONLY Nirvana concert shot in film (even if it is only 16mm) and looks brilliant on bluray. I like that they give you the option to watch it cropped or not, and usually I am a fan of uncropped, but it seems throughout this version that the filmmakers shot it with the intention of formatting it to widescreen, so I have not problem with the lost area of the footage as it largely had no information anyway.