Thursday, December 17, 2015

Kurt Cobain - Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

Kurt Cobain - Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

If you have to ask yourself if you need this, you don't.  What was I supposed to do, not buy it? Not bloody likely.

For only two more dollars than the regular version would have cost me, I bought the deluxe edition - that's 31 tracks instead of 13. With 8 minutes of running time left, it's a wonder they didn't include a recording of Cobain scraping the bottom of a barrel with a guitar pick. It's natural to want a window into Cobain's mind - the global audience Nevermind gave him, whether he wanted it or not, had only two and a half years to get to know him, and many of his lyrics, even under the inevitable intense scrutiny following his death, remain oblique and elliptical. Home Recordings, however, is no magic cipher that will suddenly cast everything in a whole new light. It will not, as the fictitious Blaine DeBeers of iZombie claimed, fill gaps between Fecal Matter and Nirvana you didn't even know existed. While some of it is of academic interest, to claim to be able to draw a straight line between it and even Bleach would be like watching heretofore unseen footage of Jackson Pollock squeeze sauce onto a hotdog and claim the pattern to be a precursor to Blue Poles.

A good percentage of the tracks on Home Recordings are montages (duh) and monologues that don't bear repeated listens. "Aberdeen" is an anecdote about an abortive sexual encounter, one that Buzz Osbourne insists is spurious, along with most of the rest of the Montage of Heck documentary. Presented out of context, there's nothing to suggest it purports to be true. Little of the actual music is especially portentous either. The oft-released "Been a Son" gets yet another go-round in a version that makes the With the Lights Out recording sound polished and meticulous by comparison. Surprisingly, there's no version of "Polly", the most ubiquitous song in the Nirvana catalogue, to be had here, although there are plenty of four chord wonders that could have become a "Drain You" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit" had Cobain revisited them. There are a couple that did grow into something more substantial - the aforementioned "Been a Son" and a similarly inauspicious-sounding "Sappy". The With the Lights Out curio "Clean Up Before She Comes" appears here - a demo of a demo. Minus the pithy lyrics, harmonies and counter-melodies that form the song's hooks (I think there are four Cobains duking it out in there at one point in the better known version), it just doesn't connect. Some of the more abstract sketches might have had potential as well, such as "She Only Lies", which is just Cobain and a surprisingly clear-sounding bass. Perhaps the phone call that interrupted the dirgey "Burn the Rain" robbed us of a classic. One of the few songs I've revisited so far is the instrumental "The Happy Guitar". Known erroneously on bootlegs as "Black and White Blues" for years, it may be a tribute to Leadbelly, but it's closer to Lonnie Johnson, whose name you normally wouldn't associate with Cobain - therein lies the appeal.

I won't be the only one to quote that prescient line from "Aero Zeppelin" (from the genuinely valuable odds and ends collection Incesticide). "all the kids will eat it up if it's packaged properly". Just don't expect them to keep it down.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sex, War & Robots