Earlier this year, during a chat with Montage of Heck director Brett Morgen, we broke news that a Kurt Cobain solo album was in the works. As of Friday, the posthumous album, culled from over 200 hours of home recordings found on 108 stored cassettes, is now out in the world, and it’s every bit what Morgen promised.
Back in May, the director told us the rarities collection would “feel like you’re kind of hanging out with Kurt Cobain on a hot summer day in Olympia, Washington as he fiddles about. It’s going to really surprise people.”
Indeed, Kurt Cobain – Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings kicks off with Kurt, er, yodeling. The deluxe, 31-track edition (a 13-track edit is also available) goes on to offer a sort of ragtime guitar instrumental, experimental sound collages, feedback drones, somber dirges, screeching metal, and a frenzied, stream-of-conscience spoken word piece (“If I don’t like myself, how can I live? How can I like you?” Kurt asks in a goofy Southern accent before making a reference to “swimming in the pennyroyal tea”).
There are also the makings of several Nirvana songs. An early version of “Something in the Way” pairs plodding, distorted guitar chords with moments of Mickey Mouse-esque falsetto. The early version of one of Nirvana’s most enduring songs, “Sappy,” was much more morose, with arpeggios a la “Heart Shaped Box” in lieu of power chords a la “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” In another song, Kurt repeatedly grunts “Rehash! Rehash!” (actually, the riff sounds like either a rehash or a precursor of the one from “Blew”), and then cheekily calls for a “Solo! Solo!” and a “Chorus! Chorus!”
There are also the makings of songs that were never released; “She Only Lies” combines a Pixies-esque bass line with plaintive vocals not unlike those of “Sappy.” The album ends with a 10-minute version of “Do Re Mi,” a Guided By Voices-esque song that was one of the last that Cobain wrote. Unlike the 4-minute version that appeared on the Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out, this one lapses into a dreamy, extended coda. It’s significantly more nuanced than the typical Nirvana song, and hints at what might have been.
There are funny moments like a 1988 ad for a Nirvana gig (sponsored by the Safe and Sober Driving Task Force) that brings to mind Black Flag’s absurdist radio ads. But there are also snippets, like Cobain’s monologue about an early sexual encounter and suicide attempt, that were probably best left in the film and didn’t need to be included in an album meant for repeat listening (to be fair, “Aberdeen” and some of the others I’ve mentioned only appear on the “super deluxe” edition).
Unlike the documentary, the album doesn’t include the studio versions of Nirvana songs that gave the film so much of its drive. If you want to hear those through a hair-raising sound system, you’ll have to watch Montage of Heck in the theater again. Luckily it’s playing at IFC Center today at 1:30 p.m., as part of the DOC NYC festival. Tickets are still available.