Music Review: Nirvana Won't Let You Say 'Oh, Never Mind…'

Ever since Bob Dylan came out with the landmark box set, Biograph, in September of 1985, autumn has been the big season for these behemoth career summaries — after all, what stuffs a stocking better than, say, a $180 Pink Floyd box set? Nothing warms up the holidays like gathering the family around and blasting a remastered version of The Wall on the hi-fi… This year is geared particularly strongly towards Generation X, with big anniversaries and killer box sets from U2, The Smiths, and of course Nirvana.

It was quite shocking to realize that two whole decades have passed since Nevermind came out and changed radio and pop culture by making angst not just mainstream, but badass. It’s easy now to either dismiss the band as spawning tiresome imitators, or to inflate them up as monstrous geniuses. However you feel, it’s undeniable that Nevermind is Generation X’s Sgt. Pepper’s–everyone’s owned a copy at some point or another. So inevitably, box-set season means that the 20th anniversary comes with various versions of overkill, with the must deluxe version being the 4 CD/1 DVD set that includes demos, alternate mixes, music videos and a 90 page book–yours for $120. My take is that unless you want a coffee-table album, your money is best served with the two-disc version for about $100 less, which still has the B-sides you want, plus some raw rehearsals.

But the best option of all is to just listen to your old copy of Nevermind, and then listen to WFNX’s old live recording of the band for free, with much thanks to and courtesy of DJ Duane Bruce. The Phoenix also posted this on Wednesday, and it’s 42 blistering minutes of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and–uh–Chad Channing (Dave Grohl would replace him within weeks). Recorded at the now-gone Central Square club Man Ray, this is Seattle’s soon-to-be superstars on April 18, 1990, and the raw live sound only reminds you even more how utterly fierce Nirvana was. True, most of the songs are from their debut, Bleach, but “Breed” and “In Bloom” from their upcoming megahit make startling appearances here, and most people probably know Bleach‘s “About a Girl” from the band’s emotionally wracked Unplugged in New York.

Indeed this music is so strong and bristly that it’s refreshing to hear the famously morose Cobain sound vinegary and punky, even if you know that the pressures of fame and drug abuse would soon turn him from the bard of the misbegotten into a casualty of suicide. The most poignant moment is when he introduces the preview of a Nevermind song by cheerily saying that it’ll be on the new album “coming out in September or something like that…It’s gonna have all of your rock favorites and it’s gonna be a blast!” Little could he have known how right he would be, and how much it would change the music landscape and his personal life forever. It’s easy to feel a little twinge of sadness there, even as it’s funny, but then when they launch full-force screaming into “Breed,” all that is forgotten and your head just starts banging all over again. Thanks to Bruce and ‘FNX, this is a holiday gift that keeps on giving.