Director Brett Morgen’s freewheeling documentary on Kurt Cobain, Montage Of Heck, made extensive use of the late Nirvana frontman’s private archive of audio cassette recordings.
Cherry-picking from the same 200 hours of material, this soundtrack collection is being hyped as Cobain’s great “lost” solo album and a revealingly intimate insight into his creative process. In truth, without the narrative and visual elements stitching it together, it mostly sounds like a flimsy scrapbook of fragmentary ideas that were never intended for public consumption.
The other Nirvana members do not appear on Montage Of Heck, though there are scratchy solo blueprints for future full-band songs including Been A Son, Something In The Way and Sappy, the latter oozing broody minor-chord menace.
But the main interest here is the new material, which is very lo-fi and uneven in quality. Among the instrumentals, The Happy Guitar is a jaunty ragtime strum just begging for a Laurel and Hardy vocal that never arrives. Shame. A fuzzy blast of effects-pedal guitar tumult, Reverb Experiment reminds us of Cobain’s connections to molten noise-rockers like the Melvins and Sonic Youth, but barely qualifies as a composition in its own right. The finger-picking folk pastoral Letters To Frances feels more substantial, possibly due to the titular namecheck for its author’s newborn daughter, but is still essentially a lightweight sketch.
Equally variable are the previously unreleased vocal tracks. On The Yodel Song, Cobain lays abstract moans over a muscular acoustic jangle that could be the embryonic first draft of a future Nirvana tune. Desire shows more shape and direction, a skeletal demo-level ballad with an agreeably vulnerable, strangulated falsetto vocal.
But the album’s most arresting and fully fleshed-out new song is She Only Lies, with Cobain picking out surprisingly funky bass guitar patterns as he seethes with passive-aggressive contempt: ‘she only lies, just to save my feelings/I only cry, just to make her feel guilty…’ This is the sound of a man who hates himself but wants his wife to die. Ouch. Who can he possibly be singing about?
A haunted, husky-voiced cover of the Lennon/McCartney classic And I Love Her is another highlight, invoking the naked beauty of Nirvana’s 1993 Unplugged session. But these are rare meaty morsels in a musical slop bucket of scraps.
At best, Montage Of Heck is an ideal Christmas present for the most undemanding of Cobain completists. At worst, a barrel-scraping cash-in that demeans his legacy.