This powerful collection – a companion to the HBO documentary Montage of Heck – plays like Kurt Cobain’s phantom memoir. Director Brett Morgen went through 200 hours of cassette tapes to find these song sketches and demos. Some of the 31 tracks will resonate only with deep Nirvana scholars, and the album could be seen as stretching an incredible legacy a little too thin. But it’s surprising how much of it is compelling, even revelatory – including a pair of acoustic instrumentals (“The Happy Guitar,” “Retreat”) with surprising Sixties-folk leanings, the grueling “She Only Lies,” and Cobain’s last recorded song, the raw-boned, beautiful “Do Re Mi (Medley).”
As in the film, the feedback loop between Cobain’s tormented upbringing in Aberdeen, Washington, and his pained genius is revealed starkly. On the demo for “Rehash,” he works a power-sludge riff and yells “solo” and “chorus,” telescoping the music into a more fully formed future. Just a few tracks later, he gives a spoken-word reading that describes a teenage suicide attempt. It’s one of many moments here that show how Cobain could be at once self-canceling and self-mythologizing, scarily aware that even if he hated himself and wanted to die, his most inchoate or slapdash creations deserved a chronicle. He was right, of course, in spite of himself.