Nirvana box set misses the mark

Friday, December 17, 2004

In the decade since the suicide of Nirvana frontman and grunge icon Kurt Cobain, fans have anxiously awaited the long-delayed release of a mutli-disc set of the band's rare and unreleased works.

As the surviving band members haggled with Cobain's widow over the project, Nirvana's 2002 self-titled greatest hits compilation set high expectations for a more comprehensive collection.

The earlier, single-disc offering was led off by "You Know You're Right," the last song the band recorded. The previously unreleased track immediately took its place among Nirvana's many masterpieces and left the impression that the studio vaults surely contained more hidden gems of similar caliber.

Sadly, that apparently isn't the case and Nirvana's "With the Lights Out," a collection of three audio discs and a DVD, isn't worth the wait.

The first disc in particular is dominated by poor quality recordings of sloppy early live performances. Nirvana's horrendous take on Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" not only was an awful choice as the set's opening track but never should have seen the light of day on an official release. Some things are just best left on bootleg.

Another deficiency in the selection of the 61 audio tracks is the inclusion of numerous solo acoustic demos by Cobain. The raw takes offer glimpses into some of Nirvana's best songs in their embryonic stages, but it is difficult to get past the lousy sound quality. At the end of some of the tracks you can even hear Cobain clicking off the tape recorder.

The second and third discs are somewhat better, highlighted by obscure but solid B-sides and polished alternate versions of Nirvana classics, including the megahit "Smell Likes Teen Spirit."

The collection's best offering is "Sappy," also known as "Verse Chorus Verse." That song, however, has long been available as an unlisted track on the early 1990s "No Alternative" compilation.

For the casual Nirvana fan, "With the Lights Out" has little to offer, and even hard-core enthusiasts of the band would be better off saying "Nevermind" to this set.

Marc Powers is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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