Monday, August 30, 2010

Nirvana - Icon

I've left that image its original size so you can see the tracklist and thus the pointlessness of this new Nirvana release. Apparently done raiding the vaults (for now), Geffen has once again turned to re-releasing the Nirvana songs we already know. With 20th the anniversaries of Nevermind and In Utero coming up, it seems likely that Geffen will reissue them and probably remaster them as Sub Pop did with Bleach. That's fine, because it's overt. Nobody will deny that they're going back to the well for a quick buck. Just make the reissues look pretty and maybe throw in a live disc and we'll happily fork out for more heavily compressed copies of albums we already own. In the meantime, why not liberate some bootlegs? Live at Reading is fantastic.

These are all the official studio versions, with the exception of the last two, which are culled from the equally widely available Unplugged in New York album, a trick Geffen already pulled on the self-titled compilation from 2002. These versions are all making at least their third appearance on a Nirvana CD (almost all of them having been released as singles) and at least one officially released alternative version exists of each of them.

The redundancy of Icon is one thing - a compilation by definition isn't going to offer you much that you can't hear anywhere else - but more importantly, it fails to adequately summarise Nirvana's career. The acoustic "About a Girl", as is the case on the live album from which it is taken, is the only track from Bleach included; so much for any young prospective fans hoping to get an idea of Nirvana the indie band that drove from its small logging town to Seattle to record an album for $600. So how about the effect that being blasted into the public consciousness had on the band musically? Unfortunately you only get a glossy cross section of In Utero. They left out "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" because it isn't one; ditto "Milk It" and all the other abrasive songs that hinted at what Nirvana album #4 might have sounded like. For all its faults, Nirvana acknowledged the existence of the 1992 odds 'n' ends collection Incesticide, but the same can't be said for Icon.

Do I think I can do better? Yes I do. My own tracklist follows. Normally I would make it chronological, but I don't think that's necessary for a band with only three studio albums to its name, plus given how overplayed the Nevermind singles are, I found it necessary to separate them in order to make them most effective. This is not a fan's mix, but a genuine attempt at a compilation that provides a cohesive listen while fairly representing the band's catalogue. It should stand alone as an enjoyable listen for anyone who likes it but doesn't wish to pursue the band's music any further, while providing those who do with a good idea of what to expect.

1. Aneurysm (BBC session version)
2. Blew
3. Smells Like Teen Spirit
4. Heart-Shaped Box
5. Negative Creep
6. In Bloom
7. Dumb
8. Dive
9. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
10. Lithium
11. About a Girl
12. Come As You Are
13. You Know You're Right
14. All Apologies

"Aneurysm" archetypal Nirvana and is a b-side on the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" single. The version in my tracklist, however, is a 1992 BBC session recording included on Incesticide and is considerably superior. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" arrives early on and the listener has already heard three singles before the halfway mark. "Dumb" showcases a "kindler, gentler" Nirvana. "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" represents the abrasiveness I mentioned earlier and for that reason appears when the listener will have already committed so as not to scare them off. This tracklist provides a balanced selection of tracks(4 songs each from Nevermind and In Utero, 3 from Bleach and 3 non-LP tracks) and can't be said to be a self-indulgent and obscure knee-jerk reaction to Icon - nine of the fourteen tracks have been previously released as the A or B side of a single. For that matter, nine of them appear on Icon in one form or another. It could be leaner, but three more tracks is a small price to pay to get it right.

In conclusion, my proposed compilation rules, while Icon is a piece of shit cash cow that you should physically avoid looking at in music shops. Whether you're a Nirvana-curious pre-teen-to-mid-twenty-something or a Gen X-er who never caught on back in the day and for some reason wants to rectify that now, you're too good for it.

Nirvana - In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition)
Nirvana - Nevermind (20th Anniversary Edition)

Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R (10th Anniversary Edition)

What is there left to say? It was number 9 in my Top 50 Albums of the Decade and was the dying breath of American hard rock. There's no remaster job on this release, so you wouldn't buy it to replace your original CD or your eight track from the 70s or OKeh Records wax pressing from 1930 or whatever you have. No, the carrot here is a decent bunch of b-sides and a very decent Reading Festival set. Nice, but a DVD would have been nicer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Extempore #3

Did MTV think it could fool anyone by adding some metal and gangsta rap to VH1's playlist and calling it MTV Classic?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Arcade Fire - The Surburbs

The last two Arcade Fire albums both featured in my Top 50 Albums of the Decade - Funeral at #4 and Neon Bible way back at #47, and I wonder now if I was too kind to the latter. Neon Bible raised the emotional stakes and it was hard not to know that while listening to it. Fortunately, The Suburbs reveals a more relaxed Arcade Fire - a relative term if there ever was one. They're still carrying the weight of the world, but it doesn't seem as though it's going to crush them at any minute.

The Suburbs is The Arcade Fire's longest album to date, but that extra space is used not to make a grander statement than ever before, but rather the give the band room to breathe. When you've got sixty-five minutes to play with, you don't have to pour your heart and soul into every second of it. It also gives them room for some interesting genre excursions. "Month of May", the band's most punk-oriented song, is more diversionary than anything else, but oddly, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)", a heavily disco-infused song featuring Regine Chassagne on vocals, is one of the album's standouts.

The Suburbs is unlikely to rise to classic status and I'm unlikely to object to that. It does indicate, however, that The Arcade Fire is determined not to live in the shadow of its one accepted classic.

Extempore #2

Steel drums: fun to play, horrible to listen to.

Sex, War & Robots