In Utero

Soaked in Bleach (2015)

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 7/10

Ever since his death in 1994, theories have been roaming that Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was actually murdered by wife Courtney Love. There have been several books and films stating the case for why Cobain’s death wasn’t actually a suicide. People have been begging the Seattle police department to reopen the case for years with no success. This conspiracy has divided the Nirvana community with some believing Cobain was murdered while others are willing to accept the suicide. Just when it seemed like the murder theory was something that only lived on in forums, Benjamin Statler’s Soaked in Bleach came out last year.

The film begins with the main points of how Cobain’s death was a murder: the lethal heroin injection, the weird suicide note, and Courtney Love hiding things from private investigator Tom Grant. Admittedly, some of it is convincing but it seems like it’s trying to rile up viewers from the get go. One weird thing about the film are the reenactments of conversations between Love and Grant. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s kind of bizarre. You don’t start the film expecting to see people calling themselves Kurt and Courtney. It makes you think of America’s Most Wanted. The reenactments are sometimes accompanied by actual audio recordings from Grant. At one point when he and Cobain’s friend Dylan Carson are walking around the house, Grant remarks how there’s some weird statue in the closet only to have the reenactment show a horrible replica of the In Utero angel. It’s one of those moments that makes you question if it was necessary.

There’s a point where Stalter interviews Cobain’s former “friends” and even Aaron Buckhard about what type of guy he was. And all of them say the same thing: he didn’t seem suicidal or he wasn’t depressed. He seemed like a happy guy. The film presents these opinions as if to say “See? He was happy, so he couldn’t have killed himself.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that Cobain was neither of those things. Suicide and depression can be hidden quite well. Look at the case with Robin Williams. We can’t go by stereotypical notions of what someone who is depressed or suicidal looks like. So having a bunch of people, who probably didn’t know Cobain that well, say he was really happy doesn’t do anything for the murder case. It’s also an unhealthy view on what depressed or suicidal people look like.

Whether you believe in the murder theory or not, the film does have some credit by getting field experts to voice their opinions, though they all side with Statler. There are testimonies from forensics experts, handwriting experts, the former head of Seattle police, and even an EMT who was on the scene of Cobain’s death in 1994. The insights they provide, such as what they found weird or what the Seattle police department did wrong, are interesting and do make you think twice about what we know about Cobain’s death, which is very little. Not only this, but the taped conversations are fascinating, especially ones featuring the Cobain’s lawyer Rosemary Carroll. She expresses her doubts about the suicide note and how Dylan Carlson knew Kurt was dead. She has since later gone on the record to deny all of this. It makes you wonder what else she knows about the case.

Other than this, there is very little new information here. A lot of the evidence that’s been used to prove Cobain’s death was a murder has already been recounted in books Who Killed Kurt Cobain? and Love & Death. Fans who believe in the murder theory will find very little new information here. Rather, they’ll be reminded of why the theory seems convincing at times. As with most films, especially ones about famous figures, you can’t trust everything being said. And it’s most likely the case some of the events and information were dramatized to amp up the entertainment factor. Still, the film will be interesting for anyone with a passing interest in the conspiracy theory. Will it sway non-believers? Probably not. But it’s at least a decently made documentary that only adds to the Cobain myth.

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Playlist: For Kurt

Last week marked 22 years since the death of Kurt Cobain. As usual fans and critics paid their respects from posting pictures on Twitter or writing lengthy pieces on the late singer. But instead of thought pieces on who Cobain was or why his death isn’t as straight forward as we want to believe, the best way to remember him is through the music. This month’s playlist is dedicated to covers of Nirvana songs. There are a lot of them out there and I couldn’t possibly cover every one, so here are some of my favorites.

“In Bloom” – Sturgill Simpson

I honestly don’t know much about Sturgill Simpson, but his version of “In Bloom” has been spreading around the internet last week. While it’s not the best Nirvana cover I’ve ever heard, it is the most interesting and musically diverse. When the song starts you’re looking for that familiar growl of the guitar riff. You can’t even tell what song it is until Simpson starts singing. His Southern twang in his vocals oddly works with the lyrics along with the light music and Western feel. The track comes alive at the end when an unexpected brass section joins in. I’m actually surprised by how much I like his mellow, soulful version.

“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” – Jay Retard

I remember listening to the In Utero tribute album released by Robotic Empire a few years ago. And it was fucking awful. The only redeeming quality was this cover by Jay Retard. Sounding like he’s submerged underwater, his version is more rock and a bit psychedelic than harsh and heavy. It’s not too drastically different from the original, but Jay Retard’s touch makes this cover interesting and at least not a carbon copy of the original.

“Lithium” – The Vaselines

It’s pretty cool that The Vaselines did a cover of this Nirvana single since the guys covered one of their songs in their early days. Unlike the original which is instantly catchy, harsh, and melodic, this version is haunting and subdued. There’s very light music recreating the unforgettable riff and Frances McKee’s vocals are fragile and soft. What makes it even more eerie is the background singing that sounds like moaning and the swelling organ that becomes more apparent as the song reaches its end. It’s actually really beautiful and something Kurt might’ve appreciated.

“All Apologies” – Sinead O’Connor

For some reason, this Nirvana song is a popular one to cover. It’s been done by many artists, but Sinead O’Connor’s version is among the best. She presents a delicate version of the tune. It’s nothing but her and a soft guitar that sounds like only two notes are being plucked. She brings out even more heartbreak and sadness in the song with her light delivery of the song. Just when you thought the unplugged version of the song was depressing, O’Connor makes things even worse.

“Stay Away” – Charles Bradley

Ever wanted to hear what Nirvana would sound like if they were a soul band? Charles Bradley gives you an idea with this soulful rendition of “Stay Away.” It’s different from most Nirvana covers out there, which either try to recreate what the band did or just play the song louder. I’ll admit it took me a bit to appreciate his version, but I actually like the different take on the song. It slows things down a bit and adds a little funk to the mix. Bradley succeeds in showing how Nirvana’s music can span various genres.

“Lithium” – Muse

Muse aren’t shy about their love of Nirvana. In various interviews, the members have talked about how Nirvana were one of their early influences and part of the reason why they started their band. Though they haven’t officially released a Nirvana cover, they’ve played their songs several times live. When they played Lollapalooza in Brazil, it was the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. They acknowledged it by playing “Lithium” and they did a kick ass job with the song. It’s a very straightforward cover, but Bellamy’s voice surprisingly works well with the song. And watching the clip, which is interrupted by interview footage, it’s clear Muse are enjoying themselves while playing the song.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Tori Amos

Tori Amos version of the famous Nirvana song often pops up when looking for the best Nirvana covers and for good reason: it’s beautiful. Apparently, she was the first artist to cover the song and she made it her own. She takes this angst ridden song filled with aggression and anger and turns it into something heartbreaking. It’s nothing but Amos and the piano, which gives it a classical air. Her version changes the entire mood and vibe of the song turning it into something completely different. It’s so haunting you’ll have chills as her voice hits those soaring notes. Cobain even commented on the cover, calling it “a great cereal version.”

“Heart Shaped Box” – Dead Sara

If there’s any band fit for a Nirvana cover, it’s Dead Sara. Emily Armstrong’s vocals are rough and raspy, which perfectly fit with the grunge genre. Their cover the In Utero track is pretty straightforward. They keep same mood and vibe as the original. Still, Armstrong and crew sound amazing when performing the song. The guitars are harsh and dirty while Armstrong’s vocals hit all the right notes. It doesn’t do anything new with the song, but it’s still a respectable cover.

“Breed” – Titus Andronicus

Recorded for Spin’s tribute album to Nevermind, Titus Andronicus takes on Nirvana’s “Breed.” It doesn’t stray far from the original keeping the same general vibe and feel. Where their version does differ is it’s a more raw, sloppy, punk rock version of the Nirvana track. The music is generally the same, but Patrick Stickles’ vocals are edgy and on the harsh side. It’s simple, but it’s very satisfying to listen to.

“Come as You Are” – Yuna

Yuna is a Malaysian singer/songwriter who does a lot of covers of popular artists, like Drake. Her version of “Come as You Are” is something you wouldn’t expect to like. She slows things down considerably, turning the grunge song into something mellow. Her vocals are relaxing and flowing as she sings the familiar chorus. Her voice is actually beautiful and works really well with the R&B/indie pop vibe of the song she’s set up. The whole thing is really dreamy and soft, something you wouldn’t expect from a Nirvana song.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Patti Smith

For her 2007 covers album Twelve, Smith did a folk rendition of the Nirvana classic. With her wavering vocals and plucks of a banjo, the track sounds fragile and haunting. If it wasn’t for the well known lyrics, it’d be difficult to tell it was a Nirvana song at all just because the mood is so different. Smith takes liberty with the bridge where she starts speaking about injustices and problems within the world. This part isn’t for everyone and it kind of kills the mood, but it wouldn’t be a Patti Smith song if there wasn’t some sort of commentary on society.

“All Apologies” – Cage the Elephant

For a live iHeartRadio broadcast Cage the Elephant, who have always had some similarities to Nirvana, covered “All Apologies.” Unlike Sinead O’Connor’s version, this one doesn’t stray far from the original. It’s very bare bones featuring only Matt Shutlz on vocals and Brad Shultz on an acoustic guitar. Though Matt’s vocals are raspy and raw like Cobain’s, it never sounds like he’s trying to copy the late singer. Instead he does things naturally. His voice works so well, I would love to hear more covers featuring the entire band.

Which Nirvana cover is your favorite? There are a ton out there, so which one did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

Other Notable Releases of 2013

We already looked at the best and worst albums of the year, but there were some releases this year that didn’t fit into either of those categories. These are three albums that stand out either because it was a stellar reissue of a classic record or it just didn’t meet the high expectations. Either way here are some other notable releases of 2013.

Disappointing Album of 2013:

Temper Temper

TemperTemperCoverYou guys know I really, really love Bullet for My Valentine, so when they released their new album I was pumped, especially because their 2010 album was so good. Unfortunately, the record wasn’t as good or as memorable as their past efforts. It’s not a terrible album, but most of the songs are bland and lack the signature BFMV brutality they became known for. Tracks like “Temper Temper” and “Riot” are pretty tame compared to their past work and while they can be catchy, it takes a while for them to grow on you. There are some shining moments on the album, like “Tears Don’t Fall Pt. 2” and “Dirty Little Secrets,” but sadly most of the songs are dull. The one song that stands out as being just awful is the Chris Jericho (yes, the wrestler) penned track “Dead To The World.” Every cliché ever uttered that describes how much life sucks is used here. Even the band knew the album wasn’t their best, which is why they rushed to the studio to record “Raising Hell,” which is another okay effort. Hopefully, their next album will get fans’ blood boiling once again.

Best Re-release of the Year:

In Utero: 20th Anniversary

homepage_large.297448eeNirvana’s third and final studio album In Utero turned 20 this year. Of course the only way to commemorate the anniversary is with an expensive remastered edition! To be fair there were several different versions fans could buy depending on their budget, but the super deluxe edition was supreme with tons of bonus material, a book featuring Kurt Cobain’s hand written lyrics, a poster, and more. The best part of the anniversary was getting Nirvana’s infamous 1993 show Live and Loud both on CD and DVD. For the first time fans could watch the entire concert with no interruptions. It’s definitely one of their best shows with several songs from their third album being played live. With all their studio albums successfully remastered, one wonders if any of their other albums will get the same treatment. For the sake of everyone’s bank account I hope not for a long time.

Live Album of the Year:

Live at Rome Olympic Stadium

Muse_-_Live_At_Rome_Olympic_StadiumMuse has proved time and time again how they are one of the best live acts around and its no different with this release. All of Muse’s live albums are great and this one isn’t any different. While there are some tracks here that have been featured on their past concert releases, like “Supermassive Black Hole,” what makes this one worth your time is it features the best songs from their latest album The 2nd Law. There are killer renditions of “Survival” and “Panic Station” that you have to see for yourself. Also, the entire concert on DVD sweetens the deal. For this concert Muse went above and beyond for their visuals. Acrobatic dancers hanging from inflatable light bulbs, Muse money pouring from the sky, and dancing presidents will leave you in wonder and awe. One thing I know is I can’t wait to see these guys again.

I hope you guys have a happy and safe new year. I’ll see you in 2014!

“Heart-Shaped Box” – Dead Sara

792dbd760536ac6096a0486fb29619f7Release Year: 2013

Rating: 9/10

I’m a huge Nirvana fan as some of you may know and when it comes to covers of their songs, I haven’t run across many I’ve actually liked. Cage the Elephant did a fine version of “All Apologies” a few years ago, but that was about it. Then Dead Sara announced they were covering my favorite Nirvana song. Since the band is absolutely amazing and reminds me of the legendary group anyway, I had faith that they would do a great job. Luckily, I was right.

Their version of the single is very true to the original. They keep the loud/quiet/loud dynamic that Nirvana became known for. They even have all the intensity and bleakness of the original. They really didn’t do much to change the song at all, but it works. Maybe it’s because Emily Armstrong has powerful vocals with a bit of raspiness similar to Cobain. This sound really comes out during the chorus where everything gets brutal and distorted.

Even though they’re very faithful to the song, I still really like it because of the vocals. I’ve heard some Nirvana songs by female artists and they manage to make the song softer and prettier than what it was. This is fine, but I really appreciate how this one really sticks with the vibe of the song. There are parts where Armstrong’s voice sounds really pretty, but she’s quick to pull out the gruff vocals that fit the song perfectly. This way the tone of the track doesn’t change; when you listen to it you get the same chills down your spine like with the original.

On the single, they also have an acoustic version of the track; this is where they add their own flavor. It starts off with Armstrong whispering “1,2,3,4” in a way that gets under your skin. When stripped of all the distortion and fuzz of the guitars, you get the bare bones of the track, which is creepy and disturbing. These elements are definitely in Nirvana’s version, but it’s easy to focus more on the guitars and the noise than it is on the tone of the track. Here, the dark, depressing nature of the song comes at you full force. There are also great harmonies here that really bring the somberness of the track to life.

The solo here is darkly beautiful. I’m not sure what is being played, but the simple solo is delicately played on either a stringed instrument or a flute. Either way it sounds absolutely beautiful and really gets under your skin. Though they do an amazing job on both versions of the song, this one is better than the normal one. It adds more of their own flavor and personality to the track. It also allows the listener to hear the song in a new light.

Overall, the song gets 9/10. It’s a stunning cover that any dedicated Nirvana fan will love. They do the song justice by keeping elements of the original that made the single great in the first place. The acoustic version is even better by turning the track into something creepy. Ever since I first heard the band, I felt they were influenced by Nirvana. The way they handle one of their most popular songs proves it and I hope they do more of their covers in the future.

Live and Loud- Nirvana

nirvana live and loudRelease Year: 2013

Rating: 9/10

As many fans have already know, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s final studio album In Utero. Not only did the band re-release the album to commemorate the event, they also released the uncut version of the infamous Live and Loud concert. It’s not as memorable as their unplugged performance, but for some reason this show is their grittiest, rawest, and most violent one yet. With a killer setlist and the guys giving one of their best performances, this is a show every Nirvana fan has to see.

As I mentioned before, the setlist is great mainly because it features so many songs from In Utero. It seemed that the guys didn’t get to perform these tracks a lot especially for television appearances, so it’s great to hear many of them live. The often overlooked “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” opens the show and if you never noticed the song before, this version will quickly make you a fan. Since it’s the first song of the night it finally has a chance to be front and center, rather than being buried and forgotten like it is on the record. It’s on this track that you can really hear how gravelly and rough Kurt’s vocals are. There are moments during the show where you see him almost straining to get the notes out. This is what makes his voice one of the most recognizable even today.

There are the classic Nirvana songs found on the DVD, such as “Drain You” and “Breed” and as always they sound great, but there are a few songs here that standout from the others. One of them is “Serve the Servants.” Aside from sounding amazing there’s nothing notable about the performance, but there’s a slight lyric change during the second verse: “I tried hard to have a sister, but instead I had a dad.” I don’t know why but this really sticks out in my mind. It just sounds really good and puts a different spin on the well known song. Another great performance is “Scentless Apprentice.” This has always been a really brutal song and Nirvana really brings that vibe alive here. It’s intense, loud, and filled with Kurt’s angst ridden howls. But what really makes the concert a must have are the previously unaired tracks.

Just as with Unplugged, this concert was previously aired on MTV where it was cut for broadcast purposes. Now fans can enjoy the show in its entirety and there are amazing songs that were cut out the first time around. One of these is the electric version of “The Man Who Sold the World.” The guys had already wowed viewers by playing this song acoustically, but here they transform it from a somber tune to an unapologetic rock song. Plus, they bring back cellist Lori Goldstein for several songs during the evening. Another great unaired track is the closer “Endless, Nameless.”

This song was part of the original broadcast, but it was shortened at the time. This has got to be the best version of the hidden tune. It begins with a cool bass jam that results in Krist pounding his bass on stage like he wants to kill it. The way this version starts out slow and menacing before exploding in a mass of noise and screaming, makes it one of the most brutal and violent performances of the song. And in Nirvana fashion the show ends with all their instruments being destroyed. As the credits run the camera pans over the grisly sight of snapped guitar necks, neglected bass bodies, and spilled water as if mapping out a crime scene.

There are also small moments during the concert that make it memorable and fun, such as the random times when Kurt walks up to the microphone and smiles. It’s the most adorable thing and shows that he wasn’t always the depressed rock star he’s often made out to be. Also, there is some behind the scenes footage that’s small but enjoyable, such as seeing Kurt getting prepared for the next track and Krist exchanging some cynical banter with the crowd. It may not be much, but it’s like a small bonus for fans whether or not they’ve seen they show before. But the DVD features more extras once the concert is over.

Everyone loves DVDs for the bonus features, which is something concert films always lack. Nirvana fixes that by including some extra performances from the In Utero era. It even features rehearsal footage from the Live and Loud show. Though the sound isn’t that great on the footage, it’s still great to watch mainly because it shows the band playing “Very Ape,” which suggests that it was in their setlist at one time. The performances from French TV show Nulle Part Ailleurs are also notable because all the members sport matching formal attire similar to The Kinks. It’s here where you’ll also find a gut wrenching version of “Drain You.” This song stands out from the others here because there’s a point where Kurt drops his guitar, walks away from the microphone, only to return with the most bone chilling scream. He then does the rest of the song with just the mic in hand making him seem like a true frontman.

Overall, the DVD gets 9/10. It may not be the best Nirvana live DVD you can get, but it’s pretty high on the list. This concert features a number of songs from their third that didn’t seem to get much television exposure, plus you get the entire concert, which features previously unaired tracks like “All Apologies,” “Sliver,” and “Come As You Are.” As a bonus, there are also several other television performances from the era along with the normal and director’s cut of the “Heart Shaped Box” music video. The disc is a great way to remind people why the album and the band themselves are so amazing.