Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: November 13th, 2015, via Universal Music
With the release of one of the year’s most riveting documentaries, Montage Of Heck, which examined the life and significance of the late Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain, has come a string of home recordings and unused, never before heard demos from Cobain himself. Many of these were used as the soundtrack for the film, Montage Of Heck: The Home Recordings, adds another thirteen songs, some of which never made it past this early stage while others would eventually become Nirvana tracks.
If you are expecting an unheard treasure trove of musical genius, you will be greatly disappointed. Montage Of Heck: The Home Recordings is a very rough collection of songs off of Cobain’s tape recorder and feature his vocals sung on top of either an acoustic guitar or an unplugged electric. There are times where his voice completely falters and goes off key, and other parts where he significantly speeds up, and towards the end of the opening track, “The Yodel Song”, he even stops to retune his guitar. But that is where the beauty lies. We don’t listen to Nirvana as a means of hearing something meticulously technical or even all that spectacular. The grunge scene, Nirvana especially, was almost a rejection of that, a symbol that you didn’t have to shred on the guitar in order to make raw, edgy, and emotionally impactful songs. Cobain was by no means a great guitarist or singer by any traditional standards, but his songwriting on the other hand, when paired with the spirit he put into his work, made for some excellent music (In Utero is one of my favorite albums ever). Montage Of Heck: The Home Recordings is no different than that; his playing, while flawed, adds to his signature charm.
The best tracks on this record are certainly the demos which would eventually be recorded with Nirvana. A lyrically incomplete “Been A Son” stands out as Cobain goes from singing to mumbling over a familiar guitar part, and ends short as he stops and says “bass part!” only to play exactly that on his guitar. This strikes me almost as a reminder for what to tell Krist Novoselic what to play at practice. A much slower and melancholic “Sappy” also shows just where the song originally started before it would became what we know it to be, similarly to a demo of “Frances Farmers Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle”. My favorite, however, is not a demo of a Nirvana song, but rather Cobain’s cover of The Beatles’ “And I Love Her”. Never before has that song sounded so dark and so emotionally raw.
It goes without saying, that if you have chosen to listen to this, you would consider yourself a diehard Nirvana fan, as I do. Despite that, I felt very voyeuristic and almost wrong listening to these tracks. I don’t think that Cobain would ever want more than a select few to listen to these recordings, let alone to make a profit off of their release. That doesn’t strike me as the same Cobain who was often overwhelmed and incredible humble about his fame. Rather than feeling like a completed album, Montage Of Heck: The Home Recordings leaves me feeling like I have witnessed a number of sketches from the creative river that Cobain was, and if anything, that makes me sadder that he is not here with us today. He has certainly left both a beautifully tragic and a tragically beautiful legacy. How I wonder how his career would have evolved and how his music would have continued to shape pop culture. While it was an interesting experience to peak behind the curtain, I feel like I could have done without peering into the private work of the late, great Kurt Cobain.
1: The Yodel Song
2: Been A Son (Early Demo)
3: The Happy Guitar
4: Clean Up Before She Comes (Early Demo)
5: Reverb Experiment
6: You Can’t Change Me/Burn My Britches/Something In The Way (Early Demo)
7: Scoff (Early Demo)
9: And I Love Her
10: Sappy (Early Demo)
11: Letters To Frances
12: Frances Farmers Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle (Early Demo)
13: She Only Lies