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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2013 | Geffen

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Hi-Res Audio - Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2011 | Geffen

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Rock - Released January 1, 1994 | DGC

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
If In Utero is a suicide note, MTV Unplugged in New York is a message from beyond the grave, a summation of Kurt Cobain's talents and pain so fascinating, it's hard to listen to repeatedly. Is it the choice of material or the spare surroundings that make it so effective? Well, it's certainly a combination of both, how the version of the Vaselines' "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" or the three covers of Meat Puppets II songs mean as much as "All Apologies" or "Something in the Way." This, in many senses, isn't just an abnormal Nirvana record, capturing them in their sincerest desire to be R.E.M. circa Automatic for the People, it's the Nirvana record that nobody, especially Kurt, wanted revealed. It's a nakedly emotional record, unintentionally so, as the subtext means more than the main themes of how Nirvana wanted to prove its worth and diversity, showcasing the depth of their songwriting. As it turns out, it accomplishes its goals rather too well; this is a band, and songwriter, on the verge of discovering a new sound and style. Then, there's the subtexts, as Kurt's hurt and suicidal impulses bubble to the surface even as he's trying to suppress them. Few records are as unblinkingly bare and naked as this, especially albums recorded by their peers. No other band could have offered covers of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and the folk standard "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" on the same record, turning in chilling performances of both -- performances that reveal as much as their original songs. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 26, 2013 | Sub Pop Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 2009 | Geffen

Distinctions 3F de Télérama
Certain concerts create a legend as soon as the final note ceases to ring. Nirvana's headlining appearance at the 1992 Reading Festival is one of these shows, a concert that arrived at precisely the right moment and stands as testament to a band at the peak of its powers...and right before things started to turn sour within the Nirvana camp. Despite the happy news of the birth of Frances Bean Cobain a mere 12 days before this August 30 festival, rumors swirled around Nirvana right up until the band hit the stage. Kurt Cobain took full advantage of these scurrilous stories, making his entrance in a hospital gown and wheelchair pushed by journalist Everett True. Cobain feebly reached for the microphone to croak out the opening lines of "The Rose," only to collapse onto the stage, milking the drama for a moment before leading Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl through a ferocious "Breed." This impish sense of humor has been obscured over the years, lost under the weight of the band's tragic legacy, along with the fact that Nirvana could actually be fun as well as furious. Live at Reading brings all this roaring back. This is Nirvana's purest blast of rock & roll: there's a boundless, invigorating energy here and, just as importantly, there's a sense of joy to the performances, a joy that bubbles to the surface when Kurt laughs during the intro of "Sliver" but can be heard throughout the show, as the band rushes in tandem, pushing the tempos on "Aneurysm" and "Territorial Pissings," ebbing and flowing as one. Hints of this could be heard on the live comp From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, but this is a complete document of Nirvana in full flight and one of the greatest live rock & roll albums ever. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released April 12, 2019 | Geffen

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Rock - Released October 29, 2002 | Geffen

Ignore the legal wrangling, bad blood, feuds, even Kurt Cobain's suicide, behind the release of this long-awaited single-disc anthology of Nirvana's work, simply titled Nirvana, and focus on one simple thing: does it do its job well? Does it capture the essence of the most influential band of the '90s, the most storied band since the Beatles? Does it have all their best songs on one disc? The answer: kinda. The inherent problem with the disc is that it's difficult to compile Nirvana's best material by any chart-based yardstick, the way that the Beatles 1 -- Cobain's widow made no bones about the fact that she wanted this collection patterned after that hit, and to be as successful a catalog item -- did, since they didn't have that many singles, nor did their career need to be condensed like the Rolling Stones' Forty Licks since they only recorded for five years. Nirvana's best tracks -- not necessarily the same thing as Cobain's best songs, although they frequently overlapped -- were buried on album tracks, B-sides, stray singles, so there's no good criteria for why, say, "Dumb" makes the cut and "Aneurysm" doesn't. Even more problematic, Nirvana's three proper albums, along with the rarities compilation Incesticide and the acoustic MTV Unplugged, all have different personalities and sonic characteristics that don't necessarily fit well together, whether it's the gleaming Nevermind, the ragged indie pop band on Incesticide, or the stark despair of In Utero. So, what you wind up with is a record that has all the hits and many of the radio favorites, plus the very good previously unreleased final recording, "You Know You're Right," in a collection that is less than the sum of its parts. At 50 minutes, it's all too easy to concentrate on what's missing: "Something in the Way," "Polly," "Serve the Servants," "Verse Chorus Verse," "Dive," "Negative Creep," "Love Buzz," "Territorial Pissings," "Drain You," "School," "Lake of Fire," "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?," and, most egregiously, the aforementioned "Aneurysm" are all prime candidates to fill out the remainder of the disc. Not all could have fit, but the presence of a few more tracks, along with placing "You Know You're Right" at the end where it belongs, would have made this collection not just stronger, but possibly definitive. As it stands, it feels like a bit of a cheap compromise and a wasted opportunity. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 26, 2019 | Geffen

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Rock - Released October 1, 1996 | DGC

From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah is the second posthumous Nirvana record, an attempt to capture Nirvana at the peak of its powers on stage. That doesn't necessarily mean all the band's best-known songs are here -- "Come as You Are," "All Apologies," and "About a Girl" are all absent -- but it does mean that this is the closest representation to what Nirvana sounded like on-stage. It may not be perfect and it's a little scattershot due to its varied source material (the tapes were recorded anywhere between 1989 and 1994), but it's still a terrific record, thanks to a sharp selection of performances and a set list that relies on B-sides, album tracks, and album favorites, highlighting the group at its best. It's not necessary, but it still finds a great band in top form. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2013 | Geffen

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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Geffen

Within a matter of months after Kurt Cobain's suicide in April of 1994, fans started asking for the official release of all the demos, stray songs, alternate takes, and rarities in Nirvana's vaults. Due to various legal disputes between the surviving bandmembers and the Cobain estate, this long-awaited set of unreleased material did not appear until late 2004, when the three-disc, one-DVD box With the Lights Out finally appeared. Not counting the 20-song DVD, the box contains 61 tracks, with nearly two-thirds of this material seeing its first official release on this set (the remaining songs are B-sides, one-off singles, and compilation contributions that didn't make it to the compilation Incesticide, or appeared after its 1992 release). Much of this unreleased material has circulated frequently on bootlegs over the past ten years -- most notably on the 1995 box set Into the Black and the multi-volume Outcesticide series -- but the fidelity here is much, much better, and there are several items here that have never been bootlegged, including early alternate versions of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Heart Shaped Box." Just as importantly, no major item that appeared on the bootlegs does not appear here (with the arguable exception of the Kiss cover "Do You Love Me"), which makes this the definitive collection of Nirvana studio rarities and outtakes. As the sessionography in the liner notes indicates, this hardly contains all of the unreleased material, but it certainly contains all of the noteworthy unreleased material. All of which covers what With the Lights Out is, but it doesn't cover whether the set is worthwhile, either as music or as a history lesson. For Nirvana fanatics, it certainly is. While the packaging is slightly irritating -- it opens lengthwise, making it a little difficult to navigate -- it is lovingly, carefully prepared, expertly sequenced and selected (each disc roughly corresponds to each of their three official albums, all following in chronological order), terrifically remastered, and given a book with plenty of rare photos, posters, and memorabilia replicated in the liner notes, along with a touching essay from Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and a DVD filled with rare video, including a selection of songs filmed at a 1988 rehearsal at Krist Novoselic's mom's house, the public debut of "Teen Spirit," and a version of "Seasons in the Sun" recorded in a studio in Brazil. However, for listeners who are less dedicated, this set may not be quite as compelling as it initially seems. Listening to archival material like this, whether it's on an official release or a bootleg, is a bit of a chore, since it not only doesn't have the flow of a proper album, but the selections are chosen for historical reasons and therefore are interesting as curiosities as much as they are as full-fledged pieces of music. And that's the case here -- while there is much good music here, there isn't much that adds to Nirvana's legacy, nor is there much that's revelatory. To be sure, the demos are interesting, particularly when Cobain is testing different words to such well-known songs as "Teen Spirit" and "Rape Me," or performing such crushing, metallic rockers as "Serve the Servants" and "Very Ape" as acoustic numbers, but these are ultimately subtle differences that don't alter our understanding of the songs. Similarly, to hear the early, pre-Bleach band run through Led Zeppelin covers and formless but promising heavy rockers during the first portion of the set is worthwhile, if only to hear a great band in its embryonic stage, but it doesn't result in a disc that's likely to be played more than once or twice; it's for the historical record, but it's not necessarily musically significant, since it captures a band finding its voice, not immediately delivering undeniable music. A handful of songs on With the Lights Out do qualify as both historically interesting and significant music, and these are mainly the songs that were completed and saw official release, or were heavily bootlegged because they were close to release. They include: the Nevermind outtakes "Verse Chorus Verse" and "Old Age"; the 1992 non-LP single "Oh the Guilt" and the "Lithium" B-side "Curmudgeon"; the compilation tracks "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die" (originally released on The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience) and "Sappy" (originally released on No Alternative, where it was titled "Verse Chorus Verse"); the solo acoustic demos of the unreleased songs "Do Re Mi" and "You Know You're Right" (the electric version, initially released on the hits compilation Nirvana, is not present here). That's eight songs. That's not to say that the rest of the box set is filler, since it isn't -- as far as unreleased demos and alternate takes from a major band go, it's interesting stuff. It's just that Nirvana's outtakes -- unlike Bob Dylan's, the Velvet Underground's, or the Beatles' -- are footnotes to their story, not part of their main narrative. As long as this is understood, nobody who gets this box set should be disappointed, since it is as good as it could possibly be. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released September 19, 2018 | Sub Pop Records

This is one case where the legend really precedes the record itself. Cut for about 600 dollars in Jack Endino's studio over just a matter of days, this captures Nirvana at a formative stage, still indebted to the murk that became known as grunge, yet not quite finding their voice as songwriters. Which isn't to say that they were devoid of original material, since even at this stage Kurt Cobain illustrated signs of his considerable songcraft, particularly on the minor-key ballad "About a Girl" and the dense churn of "Blew." A few songs come close to that level, but that's more a triumph of sound than structure, as "Negative Creep" and "School" get by on attitude and churn, while the cover of "Love Buzz" winds up being one of the highlights because this gives a true menace to their sound, thanks to its menacing melody. The rest of it sinks into the sludge, as the group itself winds up succumbing to grinding sub-metallic riffing that has little power, due to lack of riffs and lack of a good drummer. Bleach is more than a historical curiosity since it does have its share of great songs, but it isn't a lost classic -- it's a debut from a band that shows potential but haven't yet achieved it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released April 12, 2019 | Geffen

It's said that the pre-Nevermind Kurt Cobain liked to tell people he intended to be a rock star, but a look at what happened later suggests either stardom was a great deal different than he expected, or that he really didn't imagine he was ever going to become multi-platinum-level rich and famous. If Nevermind wasn't exactly the sound of a happy man, it also had a vitality and brio that were replaced by a haunted, spectral undertow on In Utero and MTV Unplugged in New York. Given how people love to make a great deal of Cobain's fondness for the Beatles, Nirvana's Live at the Paramount could be said to be his corollary to John Lennon's performance in the movie A Hard Day's Night, both of which captured the artists at a moment where success was a pleasure, just before it became a burden. Live at the Paramount was recorded at a hometown show in Seattle on Halloween 1991, about five weeks after Nevermind had been released and just a few days before the album unexpectedly crashed into the Top 40 of the album charts. Playing a packed house as they suddenly went from grunge underdogs to the kings of the hill, Nirvana sound tight, confident, and powerful in these recordings, tearing through the bulk of both Nevermind and Bleach with the agility of a sprinter hitting their stride. Cobain's vocals and guitar work are on point, spontaneous, and in the moment but landing their marks with vigor, while Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl nail the rhythms with a gleeful lack of mercy. While the set gets off to a subdued start with a cover of the Vaselines' "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam," the second tune, "Aneurysm," finds the band shifting into fourth gear, and while the pace ebbs and flows, they maintain a tight focus throughout and play the sort of show that earned them their reputation as they toured behind the comparatively muddy and scattershot Bleach. Live at the Paramount may not feature the best recorded Nirvana gig -- Live at Reading has the edge -- but there is a fire and a noisy joy in this set that they would very rarely achieve again. This captures Nirvana as a kick-ass rock band on a great night, not as the unexpected Voices of a Troubled Generation that they were forced to become. And that makes a very, very big difference. ~ Mark Deming
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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Geffen

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2013 | Geffen

"Teenage angst has paid off well," growls Kurt Cobain on In Utero's opening fusillade, "Serve the Servants," suggesting that perhaps success has spoiled Nirvana. Not! In Utero is a howling, defiantly punkish recording, an unsentimental throwback to an era of garage band epiphanies and raw, unadorned rock & roll. On In Utero, Nirvana rails against both "alternative" conformity and polished notions of commercial rock with the anthemic rage of true outcasts. Engineer-producer Steve Albini enabled Nirvana to replicate the savage immediacy of their live sound: the sound of a band without commercial aspirations or pretensions, just thrashing away for the sheer joy of noise. Drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic play with heroic power as guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kurt Cobain overlays their growling beat with shards of broken glass and shattered dreams. On "Scentless Apprentice," each Cobain power chord is tempered by a series of calculated dissonances and melodic fragments, while the singer bares his vulnerability and anger through Nirvana's familiar soft-hard-soft-hard structures on "Heart Shaped Box" and "Rape Me." Through his crunching guitar and elliptical lyrics on various diseases and recoveries, Cobain lays bare the turmoil and resentments, the physical and mental ailments (self-inflicted and otherwise) that have colored Nirvana's history. Instead of celebrating their success, Nirvana have fashioned a powerful cautionary tale on In Utero, to wit, that fame, acclaim, and wealth are not liberating; that music like this cannot be produced on an assembly line, then be used once and tossed on a scrap heap; that life and music were a lot more fun when they were back playing for an audience of nine in some grungy club. In Utero is too strong and honest to ignore.
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 19, 2018 | Sub Pop Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 1992 | Geffen

Buying time and thwarting bootleggers, Nirvana and DGC released the rarities compilation Incesticide toward the end of 1992. Like any odds'n'sods collection, this is uneven, but that's its charm since it captures Nirvana's character better than any official album. After all, this was a band that was born equally from '70s sludge metal, bubblegum pop, post-punk artiness, and indie rock inclusiveness, each of which are apparent on this collection. There are some non-entities here, particularly on the second side, but the plodding sub-metallic grind was part of their identity, one part of their multi-faceted character. Nirvana meant everything to everyone, from the jangle pop veterans to the garage rock ravers that worshipped the Stooges to stoner metal fetishes and indie rock bed-sits that adopted Sebadoh just as they outgrew Morrissey -- everybody loved Nirvana, and there's something for every kind fan here, thanks to murky sludge, Devo and Vaseline covers, BBC sessions, instrumentals, and limited-edition singles, plus sub-Melvins goop, everything visceral where Bleach was tame. Nevermind doesn't capture this freewheeling indie spirit but Incesticide does, piling on some essentials in the meantime -- the pummeling "Dive," the childhood snapshot "Sliver," the terrific forgotten indie pop tune "Been a Son," and "Aneurysm," perhaps the greatest single song the group ever recorded. Yeah, there's some filler here, but this is the sound of what Nirvana was actually like. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Geffen

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 17, 1987 | Cult Legends

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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Geffen