Nirvana - With The Lights Out

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This stuff just isn't very enjoyable to listen to, in fact it's just bloody awful.


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I've been told many a time, as I'm sure you have, to never judge a book by its cover. It's good advice and I think we'd all agree on that. However, that rule doesn't apply here as you really can judge this box set by its cover. First off, it's a beautiful looking thing I think you'll agree. The picture of the three chirpy chaps in suits is fabulous, printed lovingly as it is onto a metal plaque and placed firmly on the front of the foldout cardboard cover with some handy superglue. Inside, the 3 cds and 1 dvd are arranged nicely with a great little booklet for you to pick out and peruse. The booklet is nicely designed, containing some rare pictures and a brief timeline of the band from beginning to end and is worth a quick read. There's a nice inlay card that holds the tracklisting and at first glance, that appears to be it. But look further, take your hands off the back cover and you'll notice something rather odd. Yes, heat sensitive packaging! How cool is that? It's like those cups you see sold in Amsterdam, you know the ones, with the girl in the bikini on the side and when you put the hot water in – her bikini disappears! What fun! Then again, there's nothing as entertaining as some girls rude bits hiding underneath this packaging, here you just get a collage of old tickets and posters and other such non-interesting crap.


 


If there's a metaphor for this box set, then we've just found it. You see, this box set may have been lovingly put together by people who have been digging their way through the Nirvana archives for nigh on a decade, and it may have been packaged together in a beautiful looking box but, like the heat sensitive parts of the box show us, what looks nice and shiny on the outside contains nothing but a load of crap underneath. Whilst it's interesting (in part) this set doesn't contain much in the way of anything that's actually any good. What we get is three cds and 1 dvd of nicely packaged garbage. Which when you're forking out around 70 euro for this is very disappointing indeed.


 


This is a bunch of demos, rarities and out-takes that you want to be raw, energetic and frightening and they are. This is Nirvana. This is Kurt Cobain. You want some guttural screaming, some grungy guitars and something loud and unpleasant to your parents' ears and you get all of that, but not in a good way. This stuff just isn't very enjoyable to listen to, in fact it's just bloody awful.


 


It scores points for familiarity rather than quality and the sound quality is horrendous. Particularly on the frst cd. At times you can hear where the source tape is warped and I swear that for the first half a dozen tracks or so it sounds like the band have set up their gear in the living room of a house then taken the tape recorder and microphone out of the house, across the street, into the neighbours' back bedroom and hidden it under the mattress in a biscuit tin before pressing record. It really is horrendous. Occasionally, like in the demos for Polly you'll go, "I know this, this must be the demo for Polly," but you'll listen to the demo and think, "Well, that was alright," and then you'll want to go and hunt out Nevermind and listen to the good version instead. There's just not a lot here to get excited about. You'll probably do the same as what I did, which is listen to each cd all the way through and think, "Hmm, that was interesting," but you'll never come home from the pub with some friends and think, "Ooh, I'll just put that on." It'll just sit on your shelf looking like a rather nice ornament, but you'll hardly ever want to play it again.


 


There are, I have to say, two moments on the dvd that are just fantastic. The first is the live version of Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam, recorded in Seatlle 1991 which is amazing and the second is the last thing on here, where the band are playing Seasons in the Sun. The band are messing around in the studio in Brazil (presumably an In Utero session) and Kurt is on drums, Krist is on guitar and Dave is on bass. They're laughing and joking together and the footage has been edited along with some old home video footage and it is wonderful. It shows a totally different side to the band and is the only thing on here that makes you realise just how close these guys were. For once you get an idea of the people behind the music and for that it is exceptional. The problem is, those two diamonds aren't enough. I'd love to see the rest of that Seattle show from 1991 because if the band were on form as much as they are with Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam then that will be a show worth having on dvd. As it is here, it's just too little too late.


 


Fans of most bands and influential artists want to hear demos and outtakes, to hear what's hidden in the 'archives', but like looking for creatures at the bottom of the ocean, you might find something new and interesting but chances are it'll be an ugly bastard. In Nirvana's case, scraping the bottom of the barrel has turned up a lot of noise, and little else. If you want to understand what made Nirvana so special, go out and buy (or listen again to) Bleach, Nevermind, In Utero and Unplugged. That will give you a much better idea as to why this band, and Kurt in particular, has become such an icon, such an influence. If you listen to this box set you'll just wonder what the hell all the fuss has been about.


 


Words : Damian Leslie