Nirvana's 'Nevermind' getting five-disc 20th anniversary treatment, but is there really that much left to hear?


Image Credit: Chris Cuffaro/Everett Collection

This September, Nirvana’s Nevermind will officially turn 20. It’s hard to believe that album that rewrote the rules for pop music (at least for a few years) is now two decades old.

It actually feels even older than that, if only because the days when Mudhoney got on the radio and MTV cared about alt-rock never-weres like Velocity Girl might as well have been the Mesozoic Era.

An album as important as Nevermind deserves the deluxe re-issue treatment, and fans will be obliged with five discs worth of Nevermind-era music and ephemera. According to the press release announcing the reissue, the four CDs and one DVD will feature “previously unreleased recordings, rarities, b-sides, BBC radio appearances, alternative mixes, rare live recordings and an unreleased concert in its entirety.”

That’s an awful lot of Nirvana, and it begs the question: is there really that much Nirvana to be heard?

Back in 2004, the three-disc box set With the Lights Out appeared on store shelves, ostensibly digging up and presenting most everything from the Cobain vault worth hearing. While there were some gems buried on those discs (the primal “Pen Cap Chew,” the haunting “Clean Up Before She Comes,” the rescued single “You Know You’re Right”), most of it felt like filler, and once you got past the early recordings and into the band’s album era, there’s not much of anything (the second and third discs of With the Lights Out are mostly live tracks).

But any big Nirvana fan will have only one thing on his or her wish list anyway: the original Butch Vig-produced tracks. Cobain famously talked about how he didn’t like the way Andy Wallace’s mixes turned out (he often referred to the sound of Nevermind as “too slick,” something he rectified for himself on In Utero), and it’s not clear what the album would have sounded like had Vig handled the mixes himself (you can’t tell much based on the Vig-produced version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on With the Lights Out, outside of the fact that the drums sound louder). But like the alternate mix of Ten that appeared on that album’s anniversary edition, it could make for a fascinating alternate history.

Cobain was never a terribly prolific musician. Though he wrote lyrics, concepts, and ideas in his journal constantly, he wasn’t much of a studio rat. Thus, he didn’t leave a treasure trove of tape in his wake, as so many other gone-to-soon stars did. If it got recorded, it generally got released.

One of the big problems with musicians who die young is that there is always a hunger for more. But there isn’t a single artist whose legacy has increased thanks to constant reissuing of their doodles and afterthoughts.So here’s hoping that the Nevermind reissue dives into some serious history and isn’t just a bunch of slightly more mumbly versions of “Drain You.”

Readers, in a perfect world, what are you hoping to find when the reissue hits stores on September 20?

Dave Grohl Q&A: The Foo Fighters frontman talks about the new Foos album, saying no to ‘Glee,’ and playing ‘Smells LIke Teen Spirit’ for the first time in 18 years
Jared Leto becomes Kurt Cobain: Touching tribute or horrible blasphemy?
Remembering Kurt Cobain: Looking back at EW’s archived Nirvana reviews

Comments (29 total) Add your comment
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  • D

    It’s fine music and all, but I’m glad that someone finally acknowledges that it only impacted pop music for a few years. Grunge was quickly followed by a resurgence of bubble gum pop and hip hop and R&B, all of which have had a much longer lasting impact. (Of course, now that music is so fractured and so much more is readily available through alternative channels, it’s less of an important point anyway.)

    • Jay

      Tell that to Alice in Chains… They still think its the 90’s

    • True Blue

      I wouldn’t say that the mainstream pop music of the past 10+ years has had any “lasting impact”, few exceptions aside. Sure, it’s lasted twice as long as grunge, yet ironically it’s the grunge movement that has truly had a lasting impact.

      • True Blue

        * music, not movement.

      • RT

        I would also add that the mainstream pop that followed grunge also ended up ushering in the long, slow, death march of the recorded music industry. Pity the powers that be still haven’t made the connection.

    • PN

      There were a lot of grunge bands that tried to sound like Nirvana a little too much. But maybe the anger themes made the alternative scene last only a few years in the ’90s. You can only take so much of it after several listens and you want to hear something else like the pop songs.

    • KC

      @ D And Rap and Hip Hip music STILL SUCK ASS!!!!!

  • Ap

    I like the Unplugged album better

    • Ben

      Ditto – reveals them to be wonderful musicians and Cobain to be a very talented singer and songwriter.

  • crispy

    That album is such a product of its time that it really doesn’t hold up that well. I tried listening to it recently and gave up about 3 songs into it.

    • Well…

      Don’t know if I could disagree more. They’re not like bloody Candlebox, who took a popular sound and tried to recycle… Nirvana wrote SONGS. Yeah they were grunge but a good song is a good song, and they transcend time. “Like a Virgin” and “Thriller” might sound “dated,” but still holds up… because the songs are killer.

      • crispy

        Oh, I agree. They (well, Kurt) were phenomenal songwriters. I just couldn’t listen to grunge today for more than 3 songs in a row. I’ve always wondered if Kurt had lived if their sound would have evolved into something else and they’d continued being relevant, or if they’d become a nostalgia act like Pearl Jam.

      • Big Bill

        I’m going to have to disagree with you there. Candlebox is a strong group of musicians, and their most recent album Into the Sun is awesome. and, Dave Grohl’s post-Nirvana work reveals a musical depth that Kurt died too young to show us.

  • stephanie

    Way to make me feel old, EW.

  • Dan

    Velocity Girl = underrated. That one hurt.

  • mage?!

    I want Kurt back. He could write new songs that I have never heard. I don’t want anything. Stop selling Kurt, he obviously didn’t want that.

  • Keith

    I’d be thrilled with a CD-quality version of D-7 (my only copy is on vinyl). As for the live concert – there is that spectacular MTV concert I remember from a New Years Eve from 1991 or 1992.

    If only they would release Kurt’s versions of Hole’s Live Though This demos – perhaps for that disc’s 20th in 2014.

  • Kadeem

    I miss Kurt Cobain and it’s a great chance to celebrate 20 years of one of my favorite song of the 90’s, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Happy Birthday, Nirvana!

  • Danya

    Wait…you find it “hard to believe” the album is now 20 years old, yet at the same time, it “actually feels even older than that”? Don’t these two concepts completely contradict each other?

  • Antoine

    BS! Granted i wasn’t there when it happened, & no, not everyone was into them/”Grunge” music…. but it’s very easy to label them as “dated” or “Grunge.”
    when most ppl think of that term, they’re thinking of the media-created phenomenon that subsequently took place. I.E. Candelebox, Seven Mary Three, Creed, Bush, & countless others that followed. whether you liked them or not, you can’t chalk them up to “just another Grunge band.”
    The fact of the matter is that they were part of a handful of underground bands from around the mid-to late 80’s that actually took the music seriously. granted they weren’t Metal with the shredding of the solo’s, or Springsteen with the lyrical content; but those bands did have something to say.
    Now I’m not some naive fan that’s blind to the facts, and i will admit that they are overrated due to the mystery/mythology behind Cobain’s death; but they are UNDERRATED in terms of the actual music. Grohl & Novoselic don’t get NEARLY enough credit as musicians… And anyone HAS to admit that no band in the mainstream eye, NOT ONE! has matched the same level of intensity, and stright up F.U. attitude since!
    I agree that their well is pretty much dry, but if there’s some un-heard music out there, i say do release it, ’cause if not for the die-hard fans, for those young teens that are just discovering them/early 90’s “Alternative,” and realize that Nirvana wasn’t just a band from the dude that blew his head off; but that they really were one of the most important, talented, & influential Rock bands of all time!

  • PN

    I think they’re a little overboard with the 5-disc set. Me, I’ll keep it simple by hearing just the original 12 song album instead when the 20th anniversary day arrives. Anytime an album reaches its 20th year, those record labels like to do that splashy packaging and set. I think Nirvana’s album was dynamite and helped make alternative music dominate 6 years of the ’90s from 1991 to 1997. You heard that alternative or acoustic or unplugged sound by artists much of the decade. I think that Kurt Cobain wrote songs that expressed his anger, soul,emotion and feelings and it matched well to his band’s sound.

  • Adam

    “Cobain was never a terribly prolific musician.”
    I never really liked EWs music industry coverage, someone happened to send me this link. Now I REALLY don’t like it.

  • Glenn Blalock

    Don’t be a clown! There is always something that NIRVANA can put out that is well worth lisening to! To touch so many soul’s and to change so many life’s. You can never hear enough of them!

  • James

    The author’s premise is all wrong. With the Lights Out were leftover studio scraups, not songs meant for release. Diehard Nirvana fans were especially upset, because it really was unlistenable, unfit for release studio tripe (much of it) and there are so many great, polished tracks and b-sides that have never been released. You can blame Courtney for that one.

    But, make no mistake – Nirvana have tons of great unreleased, polished b-sides that have yet to be released: Even in His Youth, D-7, Marigold, Moist Vgina, Blandest, I Hate Myself and Want to Die, and many more – these are GREAT songs that have unjustly never been given their due. Check out Even In His Youth on youtube.

    I really hope this release includes these great tracks.

  • James

    Oh I forgot Verse Chorus Verse and many others.

    It is totally false that nearly everything that Nirvana recorded was released – I can’t believe EW would even publish that

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