Dusting Off… Nirvana’s Incesticide
It’s hard to believe but tomorrow, Saturday April 5th, marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who took his own life at his Seattle home in 1994 after several years of battling with depression, drug addiction and the uneasy relationship he had with mainstream success. To commemorate the life and work of one the 20th century’s most iconic and influential figures in the world of music, this week’s Dusting Off focuses on what may be their most underrated album, 1992’s Incesticide…
What is it?
Released in the three-year gap between 1991’s all-conquering Nevermind and 1994’s In Utero, Incesticide is not a studio album proper, but instead a compilation of material recorded between 1988 and 1991 comprising a mixture of unreleased tracks, b-sides and rarities.
The album features their 1990 single ‘Sliver’, previously not included on any of their albums, as well as its b-side, ‘Dive’, which opens the proceedings. Five of the tracks are taken from two BBC sessions, the first of which features songs recorded for John Peel’s show in 1990. The Peel session consists entirely of cover versions, including a gnarly, pounding rendition of Devo’s ‘Turnaround’ and two songs by Glaswegian punk duo The Vaselines, namely ‘Molly’s Lips’ and ‘Son of a Gun’. The second session was recorded at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios for Mark Goodier a year later and includes the uptempo ‘new wave’ version of Nevermind’s ‘Polly’, as well as Cobain’s anti-sexism themed ‘Been a Son’.
In addition to two other previously unreleased tracks ‘Stain’, ‘Big Long Now’ and the closing salvo ‘Aneurysm’, the remainder of the album is a collection of tracks taken from the band’s first recorded demos from 1988, including ‘Beeswax’, ‘Downer’, ‘Big Long Now’, ‘Mexican Seafood’ and ‘Aero Zeppelin’, all of which were recorded by Sub Pop stalwart Jack Endino.
Why should I revisit?
Despite the fact it’s not a proper studio album, as a collection of songs it’s a pretty great record in itself. When Geffen released it in 1992 it wasn’t marketed with much gusto as the label felt it would be overkill following the five singles released from Nevermind over the previous 12 months. However, demand for new music from the band at the time was still huge and the In Utero sessions were taking time to yield results, so Incesticide was only ever really intended as a stop-gap to appease fans hungry for more material.
What’s great about Incesticide though is that even though it was technically released as a kind of follow-up to Nevermind, because it wasn’t recorded that way there was none of the pressure of following up such a huge commercial success. The result is that all the way through this record there are points when you can really tell that the band are enjoying themselves, especially on tracks like ‘Sliver’ with its “Grandma take me home” hook and on the BBC session tracks. Given some of the dark subject matter on In Utero, not to mention everything else that followed, Incesticide sounds like a moment of relative happiness for both Cobain and the band in general, which is a reminder that despite everything there was always a sense of fun about Nirvana and much of their music.
Who will enjoy it?
Any Nirvana fans who don’t already know it should probably be ashamed of themselves, but some younger listeners who weren’t there the first time around may not have heard some of the tracks on Incesticide and they are well worth adding to your collection. If you’re a fan of the Seattle grunge scene in general or you’re into some of the current crop of bands that cite them as an influence then we’d highly recommend giving it a listen.
hmv Digital have a special feature on Nirvana’s back catalogue, as well as other pioneers of the 90s grunge movement and a look at the new wave of acts resurrecting the sound. Check it out here