The first-ever Kurt Cobain solo album comes out on November 13th. Brett Morgen, director of this year’s haunting Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck, whittled down more than 200 hours of previously unreleased material, drawn from the Nirvana leader’s private cassette tapes, to arrive at Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings. “I curated the album to create a feeling that the listener was sitting in Kurt’s apartment in Olympia, Washington, in the late Eighties, and bearing witness to his creation,” Morgen told Rolling Stone. Here’s our preview of five standout songs.
“The Happy Guitar”
A young, cheerful Cobain plays a jaunty folk-blues number on acoustic guitar like he’s holding down the stage in a mid-Sixties Greenwich Village coffeehouse. Morgen says that on the early tapes, “You’re hearing [Cobain] smile,” and this is what he means. On a later acoustic instrumental, “Letters to Frances,” Cobain sounds like an aspiring John Fahey, fingerpicking an intricate melody with delicate facility.
Cobain revs up the distortion for an upstairs-downstairs riff that suggests Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi in his early-Seventies prime and pushes his voice up to a manic, shredded falsetto. The neighbors must have been delighted. But there is a genuine song — clearly indebted to Cobain’s Northwest-punk idols the Melvins — coming through the turbulence. At points, Cobain shouts “Solo!” and “Chorus!” where he plans to put more noise and ideas later.
“And I Love Her”
The grunge-rock avenger often cited as the John Lennon of his generation covers this Paul McCartney ballad — originally recorded by the Beatles in 1964 — with blatant, plaintive need. “We all thought of Kurt as in the Lennon camp,” Morgen says, “but there was a lot more Paul in Kurt than he let on. I could see him doing his own version of [McCartney’s 1970 solo LP] Ram with Courtney and Frances.”
“She Only Lies”
Heard near the end of Morgen’s documentary — as Cobain nearly takes his own life in Rome, then succeeds in Seattle — this emotional seesaw between accusation and helplessness literally sounds like the depth of despair: Cobain picking a bone-y riff on bass guitar, singing as if he is already receding into the distance. He never recorded the song again. “There is only one version,” Morgen says. It is more than enough.
“Do Re Mi” (medley)
“There is no resurrection,” Morgen says of his Cobain film — it ends with the singer’s death. But the Montage album concludes with more hope: the breaking-light spell of “Do Re Mi,” Cobain’s last known song. An excerpt from his 1994 demo appeared on the 2004 Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out; Morgen includes the complete surviving performance. “You leave,” the director says of the soundtrack, “with more of a sense of the legacy.”