Remembering Kurt Cobain: Looking back at EW's archived Nirvana reviews


Image Credit: Terry McGinnis/

Seventeen years ago today, Kurt Cobain took his life. Even though it’s been nearly two decades, it’s still difficult to know what to say about something like this. Attempting to tease meaning out of the tragedy of his suicide or philosophizing about the burden of genius ultimately seems empty.

Instead, let’s focus on the reason so many people love and commemorate Cobain: his music. Entertainment Weekly has been around since 1990, which means that aside from Nirvana’s Sub Pop debut, Bleach, we have archived contemporary reviews of all their albums. Here was what we had to say about the major releases from the nineties’ most revered, beloved, and imitated band.

On Nevermind

“The problem with current college-radio rock is that most so-called alternative bands desperately want to sound normal. On their collar-grabbing second album, and their first for a major label, the Seattle trio Nirvana never entertain that notion.”

“Nirvana may not stand a chance of selling anywhere near as many records as Guns N’ Roses, but don’t tell Cobain; you never know how he’ll react.” —David Browne, Oct. 25, 1991 [NOTE: You might actually be surprised-slash-disappointed to learn that statement still holds true—worldwide, Guns N’ Roses have sold more records than Nirvana. Also, this write-up originally ran far below a review Kid ‘N Play’s long-forgotten Face the Nation album.]

On Incesticide

“‘Dive,’ a 1988 pile driver that kicks things off, embodies everything wonderful about Nirvana: the one-two-three punch of thudding guitar riffs, rubbery bass lines (Chris Novoselic [sic] is the band’s unheralded linchpin), and Cobain’s lozenge-craving roar fighting to be heard through layers of boredom and rage, which all combine to form something both cathartic and moving. For a toss-off, Incesticide has plenty of those moments.”
—David Browne, Dec. 18, 1992

On In Utero

“In Utero can’t hide what was clear from Nevermind—that Cobain writes terrifically punchy songs and that the band ravages them into beautiful, brutalizing clatter. Some of them, like “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” and “Pennyroyal Tea,” are among the most powerful moments they’ve ever committed to tape. It feels like you’re driving over a road that has its share of potholes and smoothly paved spots—rough, but exciting.”

“In a larger context, Nirvana seems to be waging a worthy war against the corporate takeover of rock & roll. It’s a valid fight, and In Utero makes a case for rock as the grating voice of the underclass. But watch out, Kurt—that target straight ahead might be your own foot.”
—David Browne, Sept. 24, 1993

On MTV Unplugged in New York

“There’s no avoiding it: Listening to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York is an unsettling experience. When the show first aired late last year, it served to reinforce what many of us already knew about Kurt Cobain: that his songs could be stripped down to basics without losing their innate melodies, that he had a fondness for pretty, lugubrious tunes, and that there was an intense, lonely vulnerability lurking behind that scraggly blond hair and those dark eyes.”

“MTV Unplugged in New York—the first in an inevitable series of Cobain post-suicide albums—isn’t a suicide note, nor should it be read that way. But both music and singer have a hushed, resigned tranquillity that, given what happened, suggests we all missed something important in what seemed to be a dutiful TV appearance.”
—David Browne, Nov. 4, 1994

On From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah

“Even if Wishkah contains no new songs or intriguing covers, it provides nearly as satisfying an addendum to Nirvana’s story. Anyone who’s ever basked in the sheer joy of anarchic noise will want to crank it—for Kurt, for punk, and for the life-affirming energy this monumental band could generate on a good night.”
—Tom Sinclair, Oct. 4, 1996

What did you think of Nirvana’s music when it first came out? Which is your favorite album of theirs, and is that different than the one you listen to the most?

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Courtney Love settles Nirvana profits lawsuit

EW’s review of Nirvana’s ‘Live at Reading’

EW’s review of Nirvana’s box set ‘With the Lights Out’

Comments (89 total) Add your comment
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  • Laurie

    Ya’ll seriously had to use THAT picture for this post on the anniversary of his passing. Bad job EW. He looks like he was just about to shoot himself. This is supposed to recap the reviews of their work that in part changed the music we were all listening to at the time and that some of us still enjoy now.

    • Tom

      Grunge needs to make a comeback!

      I’m just kidding guys. Geez!

      • Firemen Frank

        He is amazing and was amazing

    • Color Me Impressed

      Rest in peace Kurt. You are sorely missed. By the way, In Utero is my favorite Nirvana album, but I listen to Nevermind the most.

  • MysterWright

    I first hooked one of my good buddies on Nevermind in 1991 when it first came out. It was a badass album. What I hated though was how quickly what was to become the second coming of american heavy metal by kids raised on punk rock de-evolved into a mass of suburbanites from amnesty-claiming former yippie families slumming it thinking themselves cool for now smoking marijuana like it was a new thing. Not a year or two before then the counterculture had already been polished to a vintage rock and roll sheen like it were greased lightning. Its like they were trying to say if we yanks had Hair Metal we can’t have Grunge before Eurotrash. That since we did, what Kurt would end up being like whom? Then Europe failed miserably with their attempted efforts last decade with Emo and Screamo. Pfft, losers! It just makes one wonder if its not all like the scene in Lethal Weapon 2 where Riggs and Murtaugh become the last of their whole department despite a bomb placed on Roger’s toilet.

    • Jimmy B

      I have read your post about ten times now, and it gets better with every read. Did you quit taking your meds?

    • Jimmy B

      I have read your post about ten times now, and it gets better with every read. Can’t stop laughing. Did you quit taking your meds?

    • Sid


    • Tom

      I first became aware of this about ten years ago, the summer
      my oldest boy, Bill Jr. died. You know that carnival comes into
      town every year? Well this year they came through with a ride
      called The Mixer. The man said, “Keep your head, and arms, inside
      the Mixer at all times.” But Bill Jr, he was a DAAAREDEVIL, just
      like his old man. He was leaning out saying “Hey everybody,
      Look at me! Look at me!” Pow! He was decapitated! They found
      his head over by the snow cone concession.

  • crispy

    David Browne clearly did not listen to college radio in 90-91 as most of the artists played sounded anything but “normal.” (I would know as I was a college radio DJ at the time.) The Pixies, Ministry, Jane’s Addiction, Cocteau Twins, Jesus & Mary Chain, King Missile… hardly any of the bands we played aspired to sound normal.

    • RT

      College radio of the 80’s and 90’s. Sigh. Those really were the days.

    • Tom

      Yep. They all got big and fat, and stop writing good stuff. Sounds like the 90s generation to me.

      • crispy

        Black Francis was always fat.

      • MultiPass

        I know. Today’s generation is fat to start with. Sad.

      • Tom

        There is plenty of terrific music today, if you are interested in experimental music. Everything else has being destroyed, marketed to death, over played, payola’ed until our ears bleed.

      • Nancy

        Don’t even lump the lousy 90s generation in with the 80s. The 90s sucked, and they were nothing like the 80s. Black Francis was from the Pixies which was an 80s band. Go listen to your Jesus Jones losers.

      • crispy

        Yes, the 80s… the generation that gave us Rick Astley, Tiffany vs. Debbie Gibson, and “Kokomo.” And for the record, Bossanova and Tromp Le Monde came out in 1990 and ’91, respectively. Spend more time googling, less time trolling.

      • Nancy

        The 90s generation. Mc hammer. The Macarena. What is love. Don’t hurt me. With your crappy. Music. No-mo. Haddaway.Des’ree. Ace of Base in yo face! Counting Crows literally today.
        Deep Blue Something because they were too high to know what it really was.. Breakfast At Tiffany’s Lightning Crashes. The ever present C&C Music Factory – Gonna make you sweat in this balloon pants! Deep Blue Something – Breakfeast at tiffany’s
        Ini Kamoze – Here comes the hotstepper. That was solid gold! Oasis.. the band they said that was just as good as the beatles. Riiiiight.

      • crispy

        The 80s: Starship. I win.

      • Nancy

        N’98 Boys. Bored now.

      • crispy

        Where is Freddy Krueger when we need him most?

      • Nancy

        Probably NOT listening to 90s music.

      • Eric

        Yeah Nancy, Freddy Krueger’s probably not listening to 90’s music. He’s probably listening to 80’s music which is why he wants to kill everyone. lol

      • Jean Genie

        C&C Music Factory wasn’t around too long, thank gawd. Madonna said Freedom Williams was “dead from the neck up”. And just like Black Box, that unfortunate band also had to pretend it was a gorgeous model singing instead of big bad Martha Wash. Then again, could we consider the Black Eyed Peas just a bigger better version of C&C? Hmmmm ….

  • jack

    Back when EW actually wrote decent music reviews.

    • crispy

      I was thinking that myself. Today’s EW would have given Nevermind a 3-sentence review that focused primarily on Cobain’s personal life.

    • DRG

      It is the same way with Rolling Stone. Their reviews used to be in depth, today they are seldom more than a very short paragraph and 90% of what they review they seem to give 3 1/2 stars.

    • Tom

      hey some of us want to read nothing but comicbook remakes, and nother else!! buzz off chump

    • Le HIROSHI

      Jack, I do agree with you to an extent.

    • AWilson

      In EW’s defense, I feel like we’re getting less and less traditional albums to review since most mainstream musicians are putting out musics for the iTunes, one-single download generation.

    • Jean Genie

      Nowadays, so many people don’t care as much about good music. Now, we have “rockers” like Pete Wentz, Liam Gallagher, Adam Levine, the KOL & such who need to put out fashion lines, date other celebs, among doing other things to be a “brand” instead of a band. Who to blame for the way music media has changed: the easily bored public? the gossip-friendly tabloid/reality show culture? The burned-out world economy? Even if the Rolling Stones or Madonna had always done such things, it just seems to make things more superficial than ever.

  • Flip

    Suicide? No. Courtney murdered him.

    • Tom

      Armadillo? A Mosquito? Wha?

    • Jean Genie

      I don’t believe that, either. But getting involved with her was a bigger mistake. My heart has always gone out to Frances Bean.

  • DRG

    We’ve gone from Nirvana to Lady Ca Ca in less than 20 years. My what at horrid plunge that is and what a cesspool music is today.

    • Tom

      At least I understand what the hell she is talking about, at least. All that supposed symbolism from the 90s was a crock of poop anyways. Oh except for the people still rocking out to jesus jones.. excuse me.

      • crispy

        You understand what the hell “Ra ra-ah-ah Roma roma-ma Gaga Ooh-la-la” means? Please tell me!
        PS: I loved Jesus Jones! I saw them in 1990. The opening band was an unknown British group called Blur.

      • Tara

        Wow. why are you even reading this if you care so much about the horrible music that plays now? It sure shows how the music you listen to has effected your grammer, anyways.

      • Tom

        There is nothing wrong with admitting to yourselves that what Kurt was singing about was nothing more than a jumble of words. There was no meaning in it. The sooner you accept this, can you finally be free of your dellusional interpretation of something from 20 years ago. Better late than never kids. I think that might have been closer to his true message than you one most of you got.

      • Anonymously

        Blur wasn’t completely unknown….For a good year or two almost every action movie trailer or action sequence on a tv show featured “Song 2″, that or “Hey Man, Nice Shot” from Filter…….

      • crispy

        Who exactly are you trying to pick a fight with? I haven’t suggested that Nirvana’s lyrics held the meaning of life; just merely refuting your implication that Lady Gaga’s nonsense is any more meaningful than Kurt Cobain’s. Personally, I prefer The Pixies to Nirvana. And one of my favorite bands of all time, Skinny Puppy, is nothing but heroin-induced word jumbles. So I don’t see that as a detriment.

      • crispy

        @Anon: Song 2 came out in 1997. I was referring to them way back in 1990.

      • Nancy

        That’s industrial music, and it orginated in the 80s. Not the 90s. That’s like saying the Beatles is a 70s band. You can do betta than that?

      • crispy

        Industrial music originated in the mid-70s with Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. Skinny Puppy is an EBM band. You know absolutely nothing about music. Keep on trollin.

      • Nancy

        You are talking about new wave, not industrial music. Again, 80s. Stick with Jesus Jones my friend.

      • crispy

        Wrong again! And I’m not your friend, buddy.

      • Nancy

        South Park did come from the 90s. You have that much. Be thankful.

      • Sid

        Glamrock leftovers.

      • Jean Genie

        South Park still makes me laugh, but I prefer Family Guy. But what about the Simpsons, which ruled the 90s?

    • cal

      Ugh, not another 80s vs. 90s vs. today music debate. At any given time, there are godawful songs cluttering up the pop music landscape. It’s up to you, the discerning listener, to seek out something more musically meaningful. I hated 80s, 90s, & 00s pop and dislike today’s top 40 stuff. And yet there are now and have always been tons of good bands to listen to.

      Don’t just complain about crappy pop music – find something better to care about.

      • crispy

        That was my point too… that neither decade was better nor worse than the other.

      • Nancy

        I find nothing remarkable about the 90s. I hear lots of people complaining about the music today though. Some of you just don’t remember how bad it was I guess.

      • jthunders

        Nothing but a whiney ass cry baby coward who was WAY overrated! Good riddance.

  • Kevin

    To this day when I listen to “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” from the Unplugged CD the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Absolutely chilling. I was in high school when Nevermind started making waves and I remember the 1st I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV. To me they where like what The Beatles where to their generation. And I’ll never forget watching the report of his suicide while in a airport in Virgina. I had my walkman with me with a crap load of CDs in my bookbag and I listened to nothing but Nirvana on my flight to San Diego. It’s sad to think of how different music was then. A band like Nirvava could have a 1st album that didn’t do well and still stand a chance but not anymore….

  • laci

    kurt cobain despite the self inflickted and parents inflickted childhood he had was one of the most influencial persons to music today and it will stick with us every year and down to our children and our childrens children. His way of speaking at times were very intelligent and made you think. Kurt Cobain made a huge dent in the world that he never thought he would, he might of only dreamth of but non the less he did and has made more since his ddeath then when he was alive and how sad is that like so many other of his time that got smacked around by whoever wanted to make money for themselves not the talent like Kurt Cobain. Kurt Cobain lives on through a lot of different things like books and things but what really shows his true self is in his music he made for us and left us to enjoy….. You Rock Kurt Cobain…. we will see you again

  • Frank from

    When I first listened to Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, it initially sounded like standard operating alternative rock with more than its fair share of references to The Pixies, The Replacements, and Sonic Youth. Then I finally “got” into what they were doing, and it was one of the most addictive albums ever. Yet my favorite album of theirs is “In Utero”, a simply brutal, deeply poetic, and harrowingly honest album and essentially Cobain’s suicide note committed to tape. “Live at Reading” and “MTV Unplugged in New York” are no slouch recordings either, the two poles of Nirvana’s attitude and approach. While Foo Fighters’ “Wasting Light” is a seriously awesome album that obviously honors Nirvana’s legacy(duh), the pop cultural world at large needs a serious dose of the anger, noise and sheer rebellious vision that Nirvana and other bands at the time had.

    • True Blue

      Agreed. There are some seriously good bands out there, but most of them are lacking in the raw, primal energy and rage that made Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins, RATM and others from that era so memorable.

  • Tara

    I love the “With the Lights Out” set. There are so many songs on there that I had never heard before! Kurt Cobain was an amazing person and will never be forgotten. His music and personality were both so incredible and unique. I know Nirvana will always be my favorite band. There is truly nothing else like them. Rest in Peace, Kurt Cobain <3

  • Dmytro

    i actually like in utero the most but that was when i really started getting into nirvana I started listening to nirvana before it was mainstream and the band was called fecal matter All the songs are demos but they are still really good check it out

    • Dmytro

      r.i.p. kurt
      we all miss u

    • Tom

      True it was an anthem about nothing. A battle of who could care less.

  • JP

    Not to take anything away from Cobain, but this is also the passing day for Alice In Chain’s Layne Staley (9 years). Fan of both and both deserve their day of recognition. . .

    • Nancy

      I liked Here Comes the Rooster! Now that was a nice track!

  • True Blue

    One reason I’m glad I wasn’t a teenager back then. I’m not sure how I would’ve handled the sudden death of an artist I loved so much for such a short time. Just watching old footage of teenagers sobbing outside his funeral makes me sad. I really wish he had gotten the help he needed. Who knows how many more great albums they would’ve given us.

  • Kitty

    this david browne’s analyses made me roll my eyes. he obviously was not a fan. so why make a memoriam using past reviews of a person who didnt really get nirvana’s music?

  • Me

    You idiots got the wrong date! Really, EW?

    “Why does everyone keep saying this? “Kurt Cobain was found dead at his home located at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard in Seattle, Washington, United States on April 8, 1994″ (Source: Wikipedia)”

    • crispy

      ::rolls eyes::
      He shot himself 3 days before his body was found according to the coroner’s report. Is it really that confusing?

    • Nancy

      It was staged. He moved to Africa to teach poetry to starving children. His childhood dream.

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