November 02, 2005

Nirvana "Sliver: The Best of The Box"

For those who love Nirvana, the treatment of archival material has been rather frustrating. While it's to the Cobain estate's credit that they've not been overwhelmingly greedy in terms of bilking the fans' devotion, one has to wonder when they're going to get better organized. Last year's box set With The Lights Out seemed like it might have been a godsend, but ultimately it suffered for being too large; while the material was indeed of historical interest, it simply overwhelmed the listener. It's not a collection that stands up to repeated listens, because lo-fi acoustic demos have only a limited interest, especially if those songs are loud rockers. It's hard to picture songs like "Sliver" or "Lithium" as solo acoustic songs, and while they're interesting from a historical perspective, that doesn't mean you'll suddenly favor them over the final versions.

On the surface, one has to wonder what purpose Sliver: The Best of the Box serves. Sure, it's a 'best of the box,' but why release it now? Other artists have released abbreviated collections from their box sets, and that's fine. But to release it a year later, well after interest has peaked, with three highly sought-after bonus tracks? That's just crass. Had it been released concurrently with the box set, Sliver wouldn't seem like such a rip-off, and that it's released right before Christmas makes it feel even more crass. One wonders if Geffen' motivation is based on the cover of Nevermind, pursuing the almighty dollar while portraying its motives as pure and innocent.

For those frustrated by the general murkiness of With The Lights Out, this collection is even more frustrating, because Sliver demonstrates the way Nirvana's unreleased material should have been released. Sliver is concise; it doesn't linger heavily in one particular time period, nor does it overwhelm the listener with bland material. It's a varied listen, and it does a much better job presenting these unreleased nuggets than With the Lights Out ever did. Of course, one might quibble about the track list, but that's to be expected. Were two versions of "Rape Me" really necessary? Would the radio session version of "Aneurysm" have been better than the acoustic version of "Lithium?"

And the new material? Surprisingly, the three songs actually make Sliver an essential purchase. The Fecal Matter version of "Spank Thru" sounds a lot better than one would have expected, and it shows that even at eighteen, Cobain already had a vision as to what he wanted his music to sound like. One might have expected a shit-sounding song--I know I did--but it's easy to understand why Kurt's friend Krist finally decided to form a band after hearing the demo. "Sappy" is another great song, one that bridges the gap between Bleach and Nevermind, and one wonders why Kurt and company didn't feel like releasing it. The rehearsal version of "Come As You Are," recorded around the same time as the version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that appears here, and its murky recording quality makes the song sound even more ominous.

Even though Sliver smells like cash-in spirit, it shouldn't be assumed that it's a bad collection, because it's not. Instead, it's an excellent starting place for those who love the band's official albums and want to hear more, but don't want to invest in the box set. Considering that the box set was only a drop in the bucket in terms of unreleased material, Sliver should serve as a template for future archival releases, because it's concise and it serves It's inevitable that Geffen will release more outtakes and demos--I'm predicting a comprehensive B-sides record will be the next Nirvana release, as well as a release of the Fecal Matter tape and "Deluxe Editions" for Nevermind and In Utero--but let's hope they're better organized the next time around.

--Joseph Kyle

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