The Desperate, Bottomless Pit of Nirvana Fan Albums

I’m something of a Nirvana fan. As I said in that With the Lights Out retrospective (which is still one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, for the record), Nirvana was the band that got me into fansites, bootlegs, demos, and just pouring over the refuse that surrounds the bands I like. I like their music a lot, nothing more, nothing less.

But one absolutely notorious dead zone in my love for this band is the absurd legend status that Kurt Cobain continues to garner after his death. The man was hardly anything more than a junkyard art gremlin with a lot of baggage and talent to match. He wasn’t a great thinker or even a great lyricist. He was just a really good songwriter. Yet, inconceivably, there’s entire communities of people on the internet who have essentially elevated Kurt to folk hero status, someone worth deifying, and I don’t get it.

And I think–outside of something illegal, like breaking into his surviving relatives’ houses–I might’ve found the absolute bottom of it: Nirvana revisionist history fan albums. For those uninitiated (lucky you), a shocking amount of people have all had the same not terribly great idea: “What if Kurt never died? What would Nirvana’s next album have looked like? Where would the band have gone next?” Sometimes, this spills over into additional fifth, sixth, seventh, and even solo records, all using either previously-released Nirvana recordings, Kurt’s demos, other people’s music, or whatever other audible detritus is vaguely relevant.

Increasingly absurd fan-made Nirvana albums
And I still didn’t get all of them!

Invariably, these all have the same starting point. Around the time of his death, Kurt was reportedly looking to head into the studio with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and record an album of more melodic, folky material, more in line with his hero’s output. Whether this was a detour for Nirvana or the start of a proper solo career is anyone’s guess. Nirvana internally weren’t doing great come 1994. Naturally, all of these “albums” conveniently use Kurt’s home recordings and acoustic cuts as their starting point.

And that’s the first absurdity: the song selections. Nirvana really doesn’t have a ton of unreleased gems sitting in Geffen’s vaults. If you were to put together a new Nirvana record, for song choices, you have their three albums, plus Incesticide, their b-sides, and then maybe another album or two worth of (presumably) close-to-finished material across their entire career. We’re talking stuff like “Clean Up Before She Comes”, “Blandest”, and “Do Re Mi”. Stuff that could conceivably pass as album cuts. Given that “Love Buzz” is the only time in Nirvana’s entire catalog where previously-released material made it onto an album, it’s absurd to include any of the former collections in these recreations. That leaves the outtakes.

Problem is, all of the outtakes material is, amazingly, unfinished. As in, not even remotely close to something Nirvana would’ve released. Kurt was at least something of a perfectionist, discerning and picky as to what actually made it onto Nirvana’s records, and all of the songs that saw release naturally took on a certain sheen of finality. The song structures were complete and sensible (if a bit repetitive, like in the case of “Scoff”), the lyrics were in some cases rewritten right up until he tracked vocals, and the playing was always fairly tight and practiced. They sounded finished.

Meanwhile, “Blandest” was close to a first or second take, and it sounds equivalently rickety. I love it, it’s definitely a favorite outtake of mine from that era, but it wouldn’t have cut the mustard on Bleach, let alone much later. “Clean Up” was never even taken into the studio. “Old Age” as a Nirvana song was abandoned post-Sound City. I’d guess the acoustic version we have was Kurt giving it one last shot or working on it for Courtney prior to giving the song to her. It certainly wouldn’t have been included on a Nirvana album past Hole recording it. Point is, these don’t work on albums, logically or sonically, and that’s ignoring the fact that it’s absurd to mix such disparate eras of Kurt’s songwriting in the first place.

Yes, I know “Pennyroyal Tea” and “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” precede Nevermind, but not in their In Utero forms. “Radio Friendly”‘s sole 1991 demo sounds as unfinished as you’d expect; “Pennyroyal” got transmogrified massively as well. These are simply not album material and weren’t meant to be such then. Note that the early live versions are a lot closer to what we got on record; Kurt saw something in these tracks, so he kept working on them. He didn’t see anything in “Verse Chorus Verse”, so including it is ridiculous. The Smart sessions are up for dissection because those were meant for a Sub Pop album that never materialized, so the material is up to snuff and road-tested. There’s been rumors that Kurt himself revisited “Clean Up” shortly before his death, and while it’s possible, it’s unconfirmed as of now.

In short, older tracks that were meant to see the light of day did see the light of day. Anything else is basically assuming Kurt’s standards dropped off a cliff, new material stopped pouring in, and he would’ve scraped any old bedroom tape for stuff he could reuse. In short, it would be shit.

But I’m giving these jokers too much credit. Let’s actually look at one of these and pick out the insanity:

Another of these fake Nirvana album tracklists

Fucking excuse me? “Ain’t it a Shame”? You know, that Leadbelly cover from 1988? Of course that’d be on there. “My Best Friend’s Girl”, ah yes, because Nirvana would’ve really pursued a Cars cover on record. Get used to all the little bits in parentheses, by the way; because Kurt’s solo stuff obviously wouldn’t have made sense in the context of a Nirvana record, people have taken to cutting up outtake stems and instrument parts from other Nirvana sessions and attempting to create full band versions, or in some cases, just recording all the extra instrumentation themselves. It all continues further down this rabbit hole away from reality that only gets worse the more these sets lean on Montage of Heck for material.

And yes, about that. Montage of Heck stuff appears constantly on these recreations. Montage of Heck, as of writing this, is the most recent attempt to make money off Kurt’s scraps, and like these recreations, there really wasn’t much to go off of when they put it together. With the Lights Out covered the majority of the actual demos of Nirvana’s back catalog, leaving behind essentially a Beatles cover as the sole listenable cut from the entire pack. For the rest of it, we get such lost Kurt “classics” as…“The Yodel Song”. And “Reverb Experiment”. And “Kurt Ambience”. The fact that even the critics burnt the flesh off this one is proof enough that it needs to go back to the Hell where it was born. I frankly refuse to listen to it because I have infinitely more respect for a dead man than half his audience, apparently.

Things only get more batshit the further down this “timeline” you go. You see, people assume that if Kurt never died, Foo Fighters would’ve never formed and Dave would’ve instead contributed tracks to Nirvana’s later work. Thing is, that’s already bullshit! The majority of the first Foo Fighters record was written while Kurt was still alive. Kurt loved “Alone + Easy Target”, but Dave refused to put any of his tracks next to Kurt’s. At best, he accepted b-side status, but more often, you’d see things like the Pocketwatch tape come from him, totally independent of Nirvana. Yet, material is so scarce for these fan albums that they have to include Dave songs.

I think my absolute favorite ridiculous song choice on one of these has to be from “To Boddah” (and I’m not even italicizing that, it’s not a real album, fuck yourself). Apparently released in 2004 as a “farewell” album, it includes…”A Cold Day in the Sun”. A Taylor Hawkins-penned Foo Fighters track.

One of these insane fake Nirvana album tracklists

Yes, there was so little to go off of that he included a song from a man who wasn’t even involved with Nirvana to begin with. The song selections just don’t get any less ridiculous from there. Apparently, Kurt would’ve been revisiting pre-Nevermind Velvet Underground tribute record contributions, songs from the fucking Fecal Matter tape, a David Bowie cover, and full-band jams that sound utterly tossed off. This is all fair game to these basket cases. And I haven’t even gotten into the spiraling pit of oblivion that is the mashup tracks, trying desperately to get a bit more blood from this withered stone.

Of course, sitting here and discussing the validity of what ifs from strange, obsessed people is kinda pointless, because none of it’s valid. It’s fanfiction, a whole lot of masturbation from people who apparently don’t listen to any other bands. And boy, do these people deliver some fanfiction. Peek in the descriptions of any of these and seriously read the deluded, alternate reality “Kurt never died and nothing bad ever happened to the band” drivel these people pair with their fan albums. I’ll again provide my favorite in full.

After his first solo work, Cobain would live under the lights of the underground with his independent record label, Abscess. In 2002 he returned with his art exhibition called Window Pain and this time he started to tour in some US states.

In 2003 Nirvana would announce on their website that the band would be ending their activities with their next album. That time, Nirvana would be very separate and each member would be in its niche, so everyone agreed to end the band honorably instead of continuing on hiatus.

Months after the announcement, Courtney Love would be found pregnant by some fans and some rumors would come out that Kurt now wants to dedicate himself entirely to his family.

To Boddah would have an acoustic sound but with its aggressive side. The album would be greatly influenced by Cobain’s solo work.

When the band was asked about the album’s title, Kurt would reply, “This is a way to say goodbye to my imaginary childhood friend who is now represented by my bandmates, and the album should be seen as a farewell letter to the fans and to Nirvana.”

To Boddah would have some special guests like Chad Channing and Dave Grohl, and Taylor Hawkins would have a solo track in the album. Cobain would make a guest appearance on Foo Fighters’ next album as a way of thanking Grohl.

On the tour of this album (the Fade Away Tour) would have another guitarist besides Kurt and Pat (it is up to you to imagine who it would be); a woman keyboardist and Lori Goldston on the cello. After finishing the Fade Away Tour, Nirvana would do a surprise gig at a small club in Seattle.

They would play a huge repertoire and this would be the band’s last show, which would be documented years later in Nirvana’s first biographical documentary.

Later, Cobain would join the Into The Wild soundtrack along with Eddie Vedder. After that, he would go ahead with his label, solo project and his life.

So Kurt now has a record label of his own, called Abscess. He has an art exhibition called…”Window Pain”, like he’s Billy Corgan or some shit. The band would put together a Songs About Fucking-style breakup record featuring their old drummer and including a song from a drummer Nirvana never even had contact with. Courtney is now pregananant with a second kid and Kurt wants to be a family man. Afterwards, they’d tour with a “woman keyboardist” (all those Nirvana songs with keyboards, you know), play all their songs in one final surprise show lasting fucking hours, and then Kurt would do soundtrack work with Eddie Vedder and ride off happily into the sunset.

I still can’t get over this. “My imaginary childhood friend who is now represented by my bandmates.”

This sounds like something Kurt would say, yes.

Fuck this nonsense.

If you’re this dedicated to the pursuit of never listening to another band, instead settling for fainter and fainter scraps of work from a man who’s been dead longer than some of you have been alive, at least do it right. There’s a blog I’m pretty into called Albums That Never Were, and he does these kinds of recreations correctly: doing his homework for what would actually appear on the record, using good quality, lossless sources, mastering and sequencing it so it actually works as an album, the works. I highly recommend this blog. Just this past summer, he posted a recreation of Donkeyshow, the original version of Nirvana’s From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah. Go listen to it, and here’s the one for Sheep since we’re on the topic.

And uh, you know. Maybe leave the dead man alone already? He’s not coming back.

Comments left by people still upset that Kurt Cobain died 25 years ago
I don’t get it. I don’t get these people whatsoever. Move on already.

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