Edited by Brett Buchanan
I had the privilege of receiving and reviewing an advance copy of the upcoming Kurt Cobain album Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings album for Alternative Nation. It’s basic, low-fi, and stripped down to the bare bones. It’s raw! The album jumps straight into Cobain’s psyche. From the opening strumming and mumbles on “The Yodel Song,” to the ever-angelic, elongated, work-in-progress take of “Do Re Mi,” the album is a trip inside of Cobain’s creative process. It even features a track that easily could have been a Nirvana pop hit.
Sound collage experiments like “Montage of Kurt I” & II,” “Kurt’s Audio Collage,” “Scream,” and “Kurt’s Ambiance” provide a sonic representation of what was written in Cobain’s journals. This is where noise rock experimental influences like William S. Burroughs (Kurt had read Naked Lunch after getting it in a bookstall in London while on tour), Sonic Youth, and Scratch Acid are evident.
The spoken-word comedy bits like the satirical advertisement for the “Capitol Lake Jam Commercial,” “Rhesus Monkey,” “Sea Monkeys,” “Underground Celebritism,” as well as “Aberdeen,” and “Beans” show the foray of Kurt’s genius at work, merging music with comedy.
Instrumental pieces like “Reverb Experiment,” with its intense feedback, sounds like an end-type jam at a Nirvana gig, as well as a homage to the Melvins. “Retreat,” “Letters To Frances,” and “The Happy Guitar” show off other styles of guitar playing that Kurt didn’t show off in live performances with his band Nirvana. This is a new kind of Kurt Cobain, as you’ve never heard him before.
The album also features acoustic demos of 5 songs, that would later be released on subsequent Nirvana albums, both live, and in the studio (“Been A Son,” “Scoff,” “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle,” “Sappy,” “Something In the Way”).
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck Super Deluxe Edition and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings both include the highly anticipated soundtrack, an aural complement to the documentary in both concept and experience. Comprised from various early and raw cassette recordings made by Kurt alone, the soundtrack allows a rare, unfiltered glimpse into Cobain’s creative progression.
Track by Track
“The Yodel Song” – Starts off with a bit of mumbling, and then a chord progression, with mumbles/yodeling over the top. Recorded circa 1986 – 1988.
“Been A Son (Early Demo)”– Acoustic demo, with alternate lyrics, where Cobain first performs the song on guitar, and then performs the bass part.
“What More Can I Say?”– An acoustic/electric song, that was added in the limited theatrical re-release of the film in August 2015. Clocking in at 3 minutes, it’s a very formulaic song, and would’ve easily fit within the Nirvana repertoire in 1993/1994.
“1988 Capitol Lake Jam Commercial” – Cobain’s satirical and comedic take on the then-upcoming Capitol Lake Jam, using a multitude of voices. One was heard in “Beans” (the With The Lights Out Version), as well as another deeper voice.
“The Happy Guitar” is an instrumental that sounds like a theme from a 60’s television series set in Hawaii. This was first released on the Outcesticide bootleg series in 1994, under the title “Black and White Blues” (made by Bootleggers) albeit in inferior quality.
“Montage Of Kurt I” – Vocal experimentation featuring Kurt satirically talking about, among other things: Bong water, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and other weird vocal abnormalities. It ends with weird squeaks from baby toys and guitar/pedal feedback.
“Beans” – From a recording in 1987/1988. Cobain uses his “chipmunk” voice again, as also featured within the 1988 Capitol Lake Jam track, as well as others. First released on the Outcesticide III: The Final Solution bootleg, albeit in inferior quality. Released again in 2004, on With The Lights Out. This is a sonic upgrade, and could be an alternate take/mix of the “song.”
“Burn The Rain” – Speculated to be recorded somewhere from 1987 – 1988, as evidenced on the tape that: “she’s not home right now” part in the Montage Of Heck film, where this comes from. At this time, Kurt was dating Tracy Marander.
“Clean Up Before She Comes (Early Demo)” – An earlier take of the song, than the one released on With The Lights Out. From c. 1987/1988 based on research provided by www.LiveNirvana.com.
“Reverb Experiment” – An instrumental piece of guitar feedback/distortion, with an over-use of the Polychorus reverb effects pedal. It sounds like an ode to both his contemporaries (The Melvins and Butthole Surfers) as well as a homage to The Grateful Dead’s long exploratory “Space” segments of their later shows.
“Montage Of Kurt II” – Another spoken audio collage of everything from bong water, to pieces from what we knew as “Beans” (those voices were first heard in “Beans” (With the Lights Out,2004) although this is an extended version of said “skit.”
“Rehash” sounds like Henry Rollins era Black Flag thrash-style with a heavy guitar riff and heavy screams, while the chorus (Rehash, Rehash) doesn’t sound at all like Cobain’s regular vocals. It’s clearly an in-development idea, as Cobain recites where he wants the solo, by orally saying: “Solo” as he plays the riff, over and over again.
“You Can’t Change Me/Burn My Britches/Something In The Way (Early Demo)” – A 3-song segue, which Brett Morgen has described as a “Punk Opera.” It really is an epic, in every sense of the word. From the start of the verse of “You Can’t Change Me,” sounding very thrashesque, and then segueing into the grungy “Burn My Britches.” The segue then softly decrescendos to a slow, but heavy, version of “Something In The Way” (akin to the BBC version mixed with the Boombox Rehearsal version, if both didn’t have drums. (both versions were released on Nevermind 20th). This version of “Something in The Way,” sounds as if Cobain is close to tears (like the Boombox’s final verse/chorus segment).
“Scoff (Early Demo)” – A Quick run-through of what seems to be the first ever recording of the song, released later on, on the album “Bleach”
“Aberdeen” is the story of Cobain rehearsing his narrative of story-telling; a story about having sexual intercourse with a mentally disabled girl in his early teens. This has been disproven as being a true story by Buzz Osbourne, Kurt’s close friend and mentor in his early days of playing music, and was only another example of his dark sense of humor.
“Bright Smile” – Cobain uses his falsetto voice here to sing this almost 2-minute song, with an electric guitar underneath the vocals. The lyrics “Bright smile” are repeated throughout until the final “Smile” is yelled at the end.
“Underground Celebritism” – A short 28-second audio snippet of Kurt rhyming off about “underground celebration” which seems to be about not selling out, while he plays a little riff underneath the vocals.
“Retreat” – A 2-minute instrumental piece, with Cobain’s vocals breathing to end the track.
“Desire” – A standout acoustic number, running at 2 minutes and 27-seconds long. If this was worked on anymore, it could’ve been a hit. With the leading chorus of “Desire” repeated twice, and the riff afterwards before the second verse, it could’ve been another poppy acoustic hit.
“And I Love Her” – An acoustic rendition of the Fab Four’s ’64 hit. Recorded approximately in late 1993/early 1994.
“Sea Monkeys” – Spoken word audio of Kurt talking about Sea Monkeys…. Tower Records… and Paula Abdul.
“Sappy” – A new upgraded mix, from the version that was released unofficially on the “Outcesticide” bootleg series. A raw, stripped, acoustic version of the song that would eventually end up, electrically and more Nirvana-ized on the No Alternative Compilation in 1993.
“Letters To Frances” – A bright, and mellow 2-minute instrumental piece, written for his daughter, alternating from light strums, to a heavier strumming pattern/tone near the end.
“Scream” – A 32-second montage of wails layered with static, with Kurt using a pitch-shifter at the end for his screaming.
“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” – An acoustic 4 minute demo of the In Utero track, with some alternate lyrics.
“Kurt Ambiance” is just what one would believe it to be. It’s nothing more than static through the cassette player.
“She Only Lies” – A haunting song, with dark lyrics alluding to guilt and self-condemnation, along with shame towards the other person. This could’ve easily been another song by Nirvana, with such a great bass-line.
“Kurt Audio Collage” – A 24-second audio collage of birds chirping, water flowing, and some signal interference near the end.
“Poison’s Gone” – An acoustic song clocking in at 2 minutes, with similar subject matter to “She Only Lies.”
“Rhesus Monkey” – One more of Kurt’s spoken word comedy skits, using various voices.
“Do Re Mi” (Medley) – The grandiose finale of the Deluxe Edition, of one of Kurt’s final recordings (recorded just 3 weeks before his death). By the end of the take, at over 10 minutes, Kurt’s voice is shrill, and cracking.
For historical value of the insight into Cobain’s process of crafting songs from his early, pre-Nirvana days, to his final months, this is essential listening for any fan of Cobain, as well as anyone whom may be a fan of Nirvana.
I’ll definitely be listening to this, not just for historical value, but as it was intended: as a way to get inside Kurt’s mind and listen how he composes songs the way he does. It feels exactly like you’re in the room with Kurt, as he’s practicing the chords, tuning the guitar, or just goofing off with one of his voices for comedy. In conclusion, Montage Of Heck: The Home Recordings (Deluxe Ed.) is exactly what any hardcore Nirvana/ Kurt Cobain fan would love, to understand the creative process – along with the film, of Kurt Cobain. 5/5 Stars.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, will be released by Universal Music Enterprises in multiple formats, including the Super Deluxe Edition as well as in Blu-ray, DVD and digital video formats. The soundtrack album, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings will also be released on CD and digitally on November 13, 2015. A 2LP vinyl edition of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings will follow on December 4, 2015. In addition, a 7-inch single featuring “And I Love Her” and “Sappy (Early Demo)” is also scheduled for release on November 20, 2015.