This September, Nirvana’s Nevermind will officially turn 20. It’s hard to believe that album that rewrote the rules for pop music (at least for a few years) is now two decades old.
An album as important as Nevermind deserves the deluxe re-issue treatment, and fans will be obliged with five discs worth of Nevermind-era music and ephemera. According to the press release announcing the reissue, the four CDs and one DVD will feature “previously unreleased recordings, rarities, b-sides, BBC radio appearances, alternative mixes, rare live recordings and an unreleased concert in its entirety.”
That’s an awful lot of Nirvana, and it begs the question: is there really that much Nirvana to be heard?
Back in 2004, the three-disc box set With the Lights Out appeared on store shelves, ostensibly digging up and presenting most everything from the Cobain vault worth hearing. While there were some gems buried on those discs (the primal “Pen Cap Chew,” the haunting “Clean Up Before She Comes,” the rescued single “You Know You’re Right”), most of it felt like filler, and once you got past the early recordings and into the band’s album era, there’s not much of anything (the second and third discs of With the Lights Out are mostly live tracks).
But any big Nirvana fan will have only one thing on his or her wish list anyway: the original Butch Vig-produced tracks. Cobain famously talked about how he didn’t like the way Andy Wallace’s mixes turned out (he often referred to the sound of Nevermind as “too slick,” something he rectified for himself on In Utero), and it’s not clear what the album would have sounded like had Vig handled the mixes himself (you can’t tell much based on the Vig-produced version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on With the Lights Out, outside of the fact that the drums sound louder). But like the alternate mix of Ten that appeared on that album’s anniversary edition, it could make for a fascinating alternate history.
Cobain was never a terribly prolific musician. Though he wrote lyrics, concepts, and ideas in his journal constantly, he wasn’t much of a studio rat. Thus, he didn’t leave a treasure trove of tape in his wake, as so many other gone-to-soon stars did. If it got recorded, it generally got released.
One of the big problems with musicians who die young is that there is always a hunger for more. But there isn’t a single artist whose legacy has increased thanks to constant reissuing of their doodles and afterthoughts.So here’s hoping that the Nevermind reissue dives into some serious history and isn’t just a bunch of slightly more mumbly versions of “Drain You.”
Readers, in a perfect world, what are you hoping to find when the reissue hits stores on September 20?
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