Memo to Oliver Stone: Looking for material for a new conspiracy flick? The troubles behind the eagerly awaited Nirvana album have the makings of a first- rate docudrama.
In March, the fab three entered a studio in Minnesota to record the follow-up to Nevermind. Reportedly, the band emerged with a noisy batch of songs that its label, Geffen, rejected as too uncommercial. After stories to that effect appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Newsweek, the company came out swinging: In a highly unusual move, label head David Geffen personally called Newsweek to complain, while the band took a full-page ad in Billboard denouncing the rumors.
But the album, scheduled for release this summer, won’t be out until Sept. 14. Is Geffen’s tinkering with the record just part of the standard artistic process? Or did the band record an aggressively punk album and then get cold feet?
Is there something rotten in the state of grunge? Among the scenarios:
*Conspiracy Theory No. 1: Evil corporate record giant squashes artistic freedom. This is the contention of the album’s original producer, Steve Albini, who got the ball rolling by telling anybody who’d listen that Geffen ”hates” the album he made with the band. Albini, who favors an abrasive sound, contends that the band was thrilled with the record until the label objected. Geffen, the band, and the band’s management maintain that Albini spoke out of turn, that the album is simply not yet finished, and that parts are being remixed (by, among others, R.E.M. producer Scott Litt). ”We knew , they were gonna do a much punkier album this time out,” says a Geffen source. Yet Geffen has had other recent run-ins with its artists: It rejected an early version of Aerosmith’s Get a Grip, and Don Henley is currently suing to get off the label.
*Conspiracy Theory No. 2: Evil media giants are blowing everything out of proportion. The theory put forth by the band and Geffen. In a statement about the status of the album, singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain said, ”We—the band—felt the vocals were not loud enough on a few of the tracks.” According to those who heard Nirvana perform at a recent Bay Area concert, some of the new songs are as hooky as anything on Nevermind—which, let’s not forget, was also much labored over by the band and Geffen A&R executive Gary Gersh. Minneapolis musician Jessica Hopper, who was in the studio during the sessions, says the tunes are ”pop songs but with a hard edge.” But is it a coincidence that Gersh, who signed Nirvana to the label and held their hands through the making of Nevermind, announced last week that he was leaving Geffen? There is wide speculation that he will become president of Capitol.
*Conspiracy Theory No. 3: The Single Producer Theory. Within the world of alternative rock, Albini is known as irascible and integrity-minded (Pearl Jam is ”only an ‘alternative’ to actual bands,” he told EW earlier this year). During one song, Cobain accidentally stepped on a distortion pedal, and Albini argued they should keep the grating sound on for the duration of the tune. Many feel Albini’s snipes against Geffen are merely his way of maintaining his underground credentials. Albini wouldn’t speak with EW regarding Nirvana, but a Geffen source cracked, ”He would like it to be known that the evil record company hated his production.”
*Conspiracy Theory No. 4: Honorable young rock band put off by evils of success. ”Kurt wasn’t happy about all the teenyboppers who bought Nevermind,” says yet another source at Geffen. Nirvana supposedly wants to return to being just another Seattle group with a small, devout following—a state of mind reflected in a new song performed at the Bay Area gig, ”All Apologies.” It is hard to believe that Geffen, which sold 4 million copies of Nevermind, would be thrilled about such career backpedaling. What does Nirvana itself think? ”All this press is great,” the band’s bassist, Krist (formerly Chris) Novoselic, said in a statement. ”I’m just waiting for a right-wing Christian group to deem the record satanic. That would really move some units.”
*P.S.: Oliver, how about getting Crispin Glover to play Cobain?