Nirvana: Incesticide (Geffen)

THE TITLE could be a swipe at the legions of bootleggers, whose unwelcome attention Nirvana attracted the moment they attained superstar status. In fact, this compilation of demos, B-sides and radio session tracks is aimed at the bootlegger’s targets — as well as at the lucrative Christmas market.

Or else it might just be a case of taking a familiar word and messing it up a little bit, to create something new. This, after at, is essentially what Nirvana have done over the past three years: force together the power of heavy metal, the subversive attitudes of punk and the melodies of pop, forming a critical mass that when detonated made this humble Seattle trio into the rock phenomenon of the early-’90s.

The bulk of Incesticide predates Nevermind, and should certainty be a revelation of sorts for anyone whose first taste of the band came via that album’s multi-platinum success. But even hardcore fans, those which devoured the seminal Bleach back in 1989 and who didn’t need that record’s reissue earlier this year to know that Nirvana had a life before ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, will find new grist to the mill here. Providing, of course, they haven’t shelled out small fortunes on bootlegs.

Roughly half of these 15 tracks are either previously unreleased, or obtainable until now only via expensive imports. ‘Beeswax’, ‘Mexican Seafood’, ‘Hairspray Queen’ and ‘Aero Zeppelin’ are all spring ’88 demos, therefore predating Bleach, and contain the seeds of what would subsequently flower brilliantly. They’re scrappy, lacking the focus and vicious power of that first album, but ‘Beeswax’ in particular demonstrates the exhilarating fusion of barbarism and beauty that is at the heart of Nirvana.

The previously-unheard ‘Big Long Now’ dates from roughly the same period, and is an early exercise in anthemic melancholy that would later be perfected on the likes of ‘Lithium’.

A Mark Goodier BBC session provides ‘(New Wave) Polly’, a self-explanatory alternative version of the Nevermind track, and also different takes on ‘Been A Son and ‘Aneurysm’, both previously released B-sides — likewise ‘Stain’ and Dive’. The latter is joined by its original A-side, ‘Sliver’. Released at the tail-end of 1990, it’s a track which confirmed the rapid steps Nirvana were taking to greatness.

Until now, the celebrated Peel session covers of the Vaselines’ ‘Molly’s Lips’ and ‘Son Of A Gun’ have been available only on Japanese and Australian imports of Hormoaning, and here they join a version of Devo’s ‘Turnaround’ culled from the same source. Nirvana’s willingness to acknowledge their heroes has resulted in notable career boosts for ex-Vaseline Eugene Kelly, now fronting Eugenius, and uncompromising pioneer Seattlites The Melvins, whose drummer Dale Crover played on the early Nirvana demos, and who recently signed the unlikeliest of major deals.

Incesticide is a little like hard work in the latter stages, as you chomp through the early stuff. Its true value lies in shoving some previously unheralded work into the spotlight, notably ‘Aneurysm’, which perhaps signposts the sound of the next Nirvana album proper — an abrasive half-cousin of its two predecessors. “Love you so much it makes me sick,” Cobain yowls memorably. No other band today mixes pleasure and pain better than this.

© Keith CameronVox, January 1993

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