Those Nirvana guys — they’re such punks, you know? Instead of following 1991’s Nevermind with an all-new album, they have instead bestowed upon their suddenly huge flock Incesticide — an odd-lot collection of B sides, live recordings from the BBC, demo tapes, remakes of obscure outside material, and anything else DGC found buried beneath Kurt Cobain’s soiled flannel shirts. No wonder the album’s working title was Cash Cow. It’s the kind of throw-together most acts release after they’ve been around for a decade — not, as in the case of Nirvana, after just two albums and a few short years.
Incesticide may smell like more than teen spirit, but don’t hold that against it. Nirvana really are punks, at least in a musical sense, and the 15 musical scraps assembled for the record rip with the raw spirit of punk rock (most of them barely make it past the two-minute mark). ”Dive,” a 1988 pile driver that kicks things off, embodies everything wonderful about Nirvana: the one-two-three punch of thudding guitar riffs, rubbery bass lines (Chris Novoselic is the band’s unheralded linchpin), and Cobain’s lozenge-craving roar fighting to be heard through layers of boredom and rage, which all combine to form something both cathartic and moving.
For a toss-off, Incesticide has plenty of those moments. The band has a dandy time ripping through covers like ”Son of a Gun” (by the Scottish cult band the Vaselines), and intense little whammies like ”Sliver” (Cobain as a kid stuck with his grandfolks baby-sitting) would not have sounded out of place on Nevermind. At its weakest — the undistinguished slacker metal that dominates the album’s second half — the album sounds like best-left-unheard outtakes from Bleach, the band’s ramshackle 1989 debut album (in fact, some of the songs are). Still, a wise man — probably someone like Casey Kasem — once said that you can tell a great band by its junk. And by those standards, Nirvana remains a great band — for a bunch of punks, that is. B