While browsing the archives of the '.org, I noticed a glaring absence in the reviews: Nirvana's Unplugged album, from the 1994 MTV broadcast.
Hopefully no introduction is necessary for the band, or even for this release. What always strikes me about Nirvana is that, as of today, a freshman in high school would have been born after Nevermind came out. While I was never a big Nevermind fan (Dookie was the record that hooked me away from radio pop), this is the album that has always struck me as the purest representation of Kurt Cobain and the legacy he left on music for multiple reasons.
First, this was a pretty big deal when it happened. Nirvana was responsible for 'taking back the radio' (as it were) to a grunge and heavily guitar-driven era of music; to hear renditions of their songs on acoustic guitars (and that harp that Kurt mentions) is amazing. But Nirvana was doing things their way, and probably (though, doubtfully with intent) represented the band as a whole incredibly well with their set. While they could have attempted all their hits, a majority of the radio favorites ("Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Lithium," "In Bloom," "Heart Shaped Box") are not on the set. Instead, peppered throughout a well-picked variety of original tunes, are a handful of cover songs.
This is where a longtime debate about Nirvana can take place; there are plenty that argue the band was incredibly overrated, doing nothing but taking their influences of the Meat Puppets and Pixies and making the music more accessible to a larger audience. This is why I think this set offers something incredibly insightful; the band is only what they are due to the music that influenced them, so why not put it out there on the one show that the masses would see?
I could be overanalyzing that part a bit, but that's another classic part about this band; there's never really right and wrong, just a collection of opinions.
As for the performance itself, the cover songs, for the most part, trump the original tunes. David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" echoes with an addictively haunting guitar riff, while the closing song, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" showcases Cobain's half-howl, not quite a scream, but dripping with the emotion of the accidental rock star. Even though these are not Nirvana's songs, simply by the way they are rendered, they have become a cornerstone of the band's history -- so much to make it on to 2002's Greatest Hits record.
The originals that are really outstanding are "Pennyroyal Tea," "Something in the Way," and "All Apologies." While every song has an interesting take to it, these three each set a distinct mood while maintaining the overall melancholic feel of the set.
I will say it is hard to find a fault in this record, and I'm not even a die-hard Nirvana fan. I listen to the other albums on occasion, but this record continues to find itself in heavy rotation on my player. During the current oversaturation of 'emo' bands or bands using a lot of self-depricating, cliché hate phrases, this record showcases what true depression is; not through an overproduced scream, not through a double bass kick, but by the fragility of the music, the way it is calm yet strained. With this album now being 12 years old, I'd say next time your kid brother or sister wants to pick up a Dashboard Confessional (or any pseudo-acoustic carbon copy) album, point them in the direction of this. For one of the most important bands of our lifetime, it's an incredible release.
Now if MTV would only release the DVD.
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