Friday, November 11, 2011

Review - Nirvana's Nevermind Super Deluxe

I've been meaning to write this for a while but other things have been taking precedence. They still should, but I'm just gonna bust this out real quick so I can stop thinking about it.

So, Nirvana has been my favorite (favorite) band for twenty years at this point. I have everything (not the obsessive Kurt idolatry stuff or total bullshit releases like the self-titled best of or Icon). I own most of their records on vinyl, all original. No "Love Buzz" 7", of course, but you know how that goes. Nevermind is their, or anyone else's, greatest release. Of course, I was psyched out of my mind to hear that Geffen (Universal these days) was doing a four-disc reissue of the record. Well...

God, what a letdown this was. I was anticipating this release for months, looking for news online every day, every damn day, and then I saw the tracklisting - the original record, b-sides that every already has, the Smart Studios tape that EVERYONE already has (and isn't that good) and a live CD that everyone already has. People were hoping it was preliminary. It wasn't. Then I, along with anyone with ears, got REAL bummed when I heard it and realized it was "brickwalled" in the mastering stage, meaning, compressed to hell so everything is the same volume (loud) and it hurts your ears, getting rid of many aural details in the process. Bottom line - the whole thing sounds like shit and gives you a headache, the first two discs in particular.

No doubt, the boombox rehearsal tape and the "Devonshire Mixes" were tantalizing from a distance. The Devonshire Mixes are Butch Vig's early mixes of all the songs, sans "Polly," which was recorded at Smart Studios in 1990, during the session featured on Disc Two. I was really hoping for them to deliver, as Butch's mix of "Breed" on With the Lights Out is KILLER. However, they are kind of all over the place, which I suppose one should expect for rough mixes - some drums are too loud ("Lithium"), some too buried in the mix ("Breed," "Territorial Pissings"), etc. I wanted to love them, but overall I don't. I do prefer the vocals on there, as they actually sound like vocals and not wrapped in plastic, and the bass sounds like a bass. People who are seriously into engineering seem to have problems with the different sounds of the drums. It's nothing I notice though. Also, if you wanna see hardcore Nirvana fans get REALLY pissed off, Google "Sound City Sappy." A final note on this, the outro on Butch's version of "On a Plain" is so weird, in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

In the end, the Boombox tape is definitely the gem here. Much better quality than I was expecting and it has never been circulated in any form anywhere. Really interesting stuff to see the band developing these monster songs in a time that would, in retrospect, be the calm before the storm. It's that much-fabled "last innocence" period.

Now to get at what you receive in exchange for your money - four CDs, a DVD and a hardcover book for $109-$130+, depending where you got (get) it. With the Lights Out is currently around $40 and you get three CDs, a DVD and a softcover book. Both have substantial packaging. With the Lights Out had WAY more unreleased stuff on it, like most of it. All of Disc One and part of Disc Two on the other hand, have been released commercially. Disc Four replicates the DVD, which again, has been available as a high-quality audio bootleg since time immemorial. Plus, all the live b-sides are from this show, so those songs appear three times on the set - what? Anyway, you can buy the Deluxe for $20 and the DVD for $16 or so. What do you miss out on? Not much. Not much.

So what happened? I bought the Super Deluxe and returned it without opening it. I stuck with the regular Deluxe and the DVD. I've probably listened to the Deluxe twice. I will never listen to the first disc again. What a profound disappointment. There are so many alternate takes/mixes/etc. they could have included. Even fucking studio banter. But they didn't. Just mostly a bunch of shit everyone already has, or if they don't, can get in much better quality, particularly the original record (although I have read that stores criminally pulled the original disc from the shelves and replaced it with a single-disc brickwalled shit sound remaster) and the b-sides (all of the singles are readily available online for a pittance - the original packaging and the sound are so much more worthwhile).

I also purchased and returned, unopened, the four-LP vinyl version of the regular deluxe after reading multiple times about how it, too, is brickwalled and sounds utterly horrific. What a shame.

Ah, almost forgot - many people report sync issues with the Blu-ray version of the live show, to the extent that Amazon has instructions up to help customers deal with it. I wouldn't know, as I don't have a Blu-ray player, but given the care Universal didn't put into the rest of it, I don't doubt it.

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