Label: Geffen Records
Released: November 20, 2007
I have long felt that Nirvana is grossly overrated. Bleach was a good grunge album and Nevermind managed to both transcend the genre and be in the right place at the right time, exploding into the faltering world of commercial rock. Even so, it’s more commercially important than musically. In Utero, however, is one of the two “Emperor’s New Clothes” of 90s rock (the other being U2’s Zooropa). After all, who wants to admit that they don’t get it? Well, I get it…all too well. It’s the bloated ramblings of someone selling their punk rock soul for self-importance. Sure, I’ll give Cobain credit for not just spitting out another Nevermind, but it would have been nice if he hadn’t believed the hype about his genius, because if In Utero proves anything, it’s that Cobain is no genius. His death cemented the album’s inflated legacy and protected it from ever being reconsidered outside of the euphoria of having mainstream rock finally say something other than “let’s party.” To me though, Nirvana was a dead end street at this point, a one trick pony who couldn’t learn something new, but was too . Nothing anyone has written or said has ever made me reconsider this. Giving In Utero countless second chances hasn’t either. But one thing has: Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York.
For such a good idea, MTV’s Unplugged had been a spotty affair. There were some great ones to be sure, but most were mediocre reworkings of hts and covers. So, when the broadcast of Nirvana’s Unplugged session was on the horizon, recorded just a short time after the release of the, to me, very disappointing In Utero, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down. All of that changed when I saw it. Kurt Cobain’s struggles with fame were absent. He seemed comfortable in his now famous skin for the first (and perhaps only) time. The band’s ability to translate their loud, abrasive music into this more refined environment and be more powerful speaks volumes about them. Even the three songs they perform from In Utero have that power. The guest appearance by the Meat Puppets doesn’t stink of rock snobbery. Instead, it’s a natural collaboration that likely would have failed (much like the Meat Puppets’ next album) had it appeared on a regular studio album. They didn’t play all the big hits. It was intimate. Quite simply, Unplugged in New York was the creative pinnacle of both MTV’s and Nirvana’s existences. It all went down hill from there.
The original MTV broadcast is on here, but the main feature is the full concert as those lucky enough to be there saw it. The MTV News: Bare Witness feature has some interesting moments, but is largely full of stupid memories colored by years of Cobain worship following his death. The rehearsals show a bit more of the band’s personality, a nice bonus, but are certainly not essential. While the bonus material isn’t great, it doesn’t have to be, because the main feature is still amazing, even for those who, like me, aren’t caught up in the cult of Nirvana.