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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Box Set Reviews > Nirvana

Nirvana

With the Lights Out (Geffen B0003727-00) 2004

Return to Box Sets Report Card

CLICK HERE FOR OUR REVIEW OF NIRVANA'S ON THE MUDDY BANKS OF THE WISHKAH

Copyright 2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted January 9, 2005.

Description:
The reputation of being the voice of a generation has been both a blessing and a curse to Nirvana's legacy.  Now, a decade after lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide, it is hard to separate the music from the mythos.  There has been a tendency to deify Cobain as a brilliant artist who died for our sins, and I think that is doing him and the band a disservice.  What he was, instead, was a revolutionary rock musician who changed the face of music -- at least for a while.  With the Lights Out has been in the planning stages for years now, however legal problems have held the project up.  The label, the surviving bandmates (Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Krist Novoselic) and Cobain's widow Courtney Love have finally put aside their legal wranglings to release just about everything you could need from the Nirvana vaults.
What's Good About It?
The first disk takes you on an interesting ride from their very beginnings when Nirvana wasn't a very good band doing Led Zep covers and lets you watch as they gain confidence, skill and musical taste (trading up from three Zep covers to three by Leadbelly and one by the Velvet Underground.)  Cobain's songwriting skills are blossoming, too, and by the middle of the disk the terrific tunes of "About A Girl" and "Polly" shine through in the sludgy bare bones production.  By the time that they are working on demos that would become their breakthrough album Nevermind, the band has found its musical footing (if not necessarily having all the technical tools at their disposal.)  The potential on the rehearsal demo of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" shines through like a beacon even if the sound isn't that great.  An angry acoustic demo of "Lithium" previews Cobain's Unplugged success and "Verse Chorus Verse" is a mesmerizing look at a song in progress (it was also performed with different lyrics as "In His Hands").  By the third disk Cobain's unraveling is apparent, with songs like the legendary "I Hate Myself and Want To Die" (previously only available on the soundtrack to the movie Beavis & Butthead Do America) and raw acoustic demos of "Rape Me," "All Apologies" and "Jesus Doesn't Want Me As A Sunbeam."  The bonus DVD is mostly made up of very early home-made videos of live performances.  However, the technical quality is secondary importance because it does include one piece of rock and roll history -- the first live performance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at a small Seattle hotel, with a disinterested audience.  Right there on that tiny stage, you are able to watch music being forever changed.
What's Bad About It?
Three disks made up of all demos, b-sides and rarities makes for an interesting history lesson on the band.  However with very few exceptions when there are studio recordings available of the same songs, those were released rather than these works in progress for a reason.  So as interesting as it is to hear, for example, an early solo acoustic performance of "Lithium," I have to admit if I want to hear that song again I'm much more likely to pull out Nevermind or last year's Nirvana compilation.  An additional disk or two with the official versions of songs would make this just about perfect.
What's Missing?
Other than the studio work mentioned above, I can't think of a thing that they missed.
PopEntertainment.com final grade: B+
This is an amazing look at a talented man growing more and more confident and at the same time more and more tortured, before he finally crashed and burned.  The often questionable technical quality is made up for because of their historic import.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted January 9, 2005.

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