With a single gunshot fired in April of 1994, an entire music movement was snuffed out. With a single gunshot fired in April of 1994, one of the most important bands in American music history ended. And with a single gunshot fired in April of 1994, one woman, Courtney Love, gained way too much power over a band she had nothing to do with.
Of course, I speak of Nirvana. People can sit here and debate the actual talents of their late leader, Kurt Cobain, all they want. The fact is is that Kurt himself didn't know what he wanted to be. He idolized the Beatles alongside a band like Big Black. He thought that The Knack made one of the best pop albums ever. He tried his best to hide this side with other bands (specifically around Mudhoney), but it came out in his music. What came out? His sense of melody.
This single disc greatest hits compilation will certainly make a lot of people happy. After all, not many 14 year olds have money to go out and buy 5 discs. To get "the best" of Nirvana for about $12 isn't bad at all. However, longtime fans have been left in the dark, and it's all because of one song: You Know You're Right.
In January of 94, Nirvana entered a studio and cut the track in record time. It became the centerpiece of a "box set" vs "greatest hits" battle. The Courtney Love driven battle for a "greatest hits" set won. You Know You're Right is a song that I hated when I first heard it. With repeated listens, I love it. It is absolutely brilliant, both lyrically and musically. It captures everything influential about Nirvana, from the use of feedback as an instrument (a tactic that they ripped off from Sonic Youth) to their infamous "loud/soft" dynamic that became so popular for many rock bands to use in the mid 90s.
No one is going to argue about the placing of the singles on this disc. After all, no one should be surprised to see songs like Smells Like Teen Spirit or Lithium on here, and I don't think anyone would begrudge that they belong here. And it is admittedly refreshing to see Sliver, a huge fan favorite, make the cut. Sliver is probably my favorite Nirvana song, and it's fate of being buried on the b-sides collection Incesticide is maddening.
Unfortunately, the band's 1989 debut is mostly ignored, save for About a Girl. Some might even say that the only reason this was placed on here was because of the success of the Unplugged version as a single. Surely songs like Floyd the Barber, Negative Creep, and School could have been placed on this disc (which clocks in at about 52 minutes).
The four singles from Nevermind belong on here, but what about the other songs from that album? Where is Drain You and On a Plain, two more songs that show exactly what Nirvana accomplished sonically.
Luckily, though, the latter years get better treatment. Surely, Heart Shaped Box is the best song Cobain ever wrote. It is genius both in it's words and it's music, which at once cuts you down and brings you back up again. The remix of Pennyroyal Tea is barely noticable, but the song is still excellent. But Dumb? What the hell were they thinking?
The MTV Unplugged sessions get two representatives in All Apologies and the band's cover of David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World. While there is nothing inately wrong with the Bowie cover, I personally think that they should have used the performance of Pennyroyal Tea from Unplugged as well.
All in all, this disc is fine for someone who owns nothing Nirvana and wants a halfway decent career overview. But for someone who already owns it all, for someone who expected so much more from this, you can't help but be disappointed. Jesus, I don't even get the live version of Aneurysm, which was the only saving grace of that AWFUL (and I do mean AWFUL) live album that was put out a few years ago?
Besides, do you REALLY want to line Courtney Love's pockets with more blood money? Nah, I didn't think so. Kurt deserved better. So did the fans.
More on Nirvana:
MTV Unplugged In New York