Kurt Cobain: The Home Recordings – A Guide
Brett Morgen's documentary on the life and death of Nirvana's mercurial frontman, Montage of Heck, won many admirers on its release earlier this year, with even Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances offering her backing to the film's warts-and-all depiction of her father. Part of what made the film stand apart from the litany of biographical accounts - authorised and unauthorised – that have emerged since Cobain's death in 1994 was Morgen's access to hours of private footage from Cobain's family, including home movies of the young Kurt as a child from his parents, plus some incredibly intimate videos featuring his wife Courtney Love and their infant daughter.
The other intriguing aspect of Morgen's film though was its soundtrack, compiled from a series of recordings found among Kurt's possessions that offer an insight into his creative process. The soundtrack arrives in stores today as an album on two formats; a standard, 13-track edition and a deluxe version offering a total of 31 tracks previously unheard until the arrival of Morgen's documentary. So what can you expect from Kurt Cobain: The Home Recordings? Here's our guide to what it is, and what it isn't...
Is this a Kurt Cobain solo album?
Not really. Think of it more as the auditory equivalent of Kurt Cobain's Journals, the book published at the behest of Courtney Love in 2002 featuring everything from painfully honest diary entries and draft versions of lyrics to cartoons and doodles. These are mostly sketches, some of which are more fully formed than others, but it's very much a lo-fi, DIY affair.
Does it feature live recordings, outtakes and b-sides?
In a word; no. Whereas the many compilations that have emerged since Cobain's death have tended to feature some new live version or other of tracks from Nirvana's back catalogue, The Home Recordings is just focussed on the things Kurt recorded by himself while he was writing. Besides, pretty much every live version there is has already been released in one form or another.
Are there any more studio recordings?
Let's get one thing straight: in the grand scheme of things, Nirvana really weren't around for all that long and only produced three studio albums in Kurt's lifetime, plus the compilation LP Incesticide featuring studio outtakes, live tracks and recordings culled from sessions with John Peel for the BBC. The numerous compilations, repacks and live recordings released since then have well and truly exhausted the entire recorded catalogue of Nirvana's music. There are no more studio tracks to hear. It's done. Finished.
Are there any songs I will recognise?
Quite a few actually. Both the standard and deluxe include demo versions of 'Been a Son', 'Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle' and 'Sappy', plus an early version of the song that would eventually become 'Something in the Way'. There's also a charmingly scratchy cover version of The Beatles' 'And I Love Her'.
So why should I buy it?
Beyond the tracks mentioned above, the rest of the material on offer here didn't see the light of day until Morgen's documentary was released, so there's actually plenty of stuff here you may not have heard. You could argue that there's a reason for that; when Journals was published it caused some controversy, with some fans feeling that this insight into Kurt's life was simply too personal and The Home Recordings does make you wonder what the late Nirvana frontman would have made of its release - these are very basic, unfinished songs and arrangements, some nowhere near being a finished product, but for anyone fascinated by the working process of such a compelling artist these recordings do offer a lot of insight.
The other thing to note about this album is that it's a reminder of how funny Kurt Cobain was, something that often gets lost in the dialogue about his drug addiction, depression and his tragic death. This is, after all, the guy who turned up on MTV's Headbanger's Ball wearing an actual ball gown, and who had himself rolled onto the stage at Reading festival in a wheelchair to mock the media reports of his ill health. The Home Recordings even includes him performing a comedy sketch.
A 'new album' this is not, but taken for what it is The Home Recordings is a fascinating document nonetheless, and one which any hardcore fan of Nirvana will want to add to their collection.