Now that we’re 21 years down the line from Kurt Cobain’s sad and lonely death, his deification as a true rock star and depressing martyrdom as a member of the 27 Club sometimes overshadows the incredible body of work he left behind, especially for a younger generation who missed out on the thrill of grunge coming along and changing everything.
So the re-release of this Nirvana best-of, transplanting it on to heavyweight 180-gram vinyl, provides an ideal time capsule, a reminder of just how special they were and a natural starting point for those too youthful to have been mesmerised by them the first time around.
The big selling point on its original release in 2002 was opening track You Know You’re Right, unreleased in the band’s own lifetime and the last thing they recorded together. It’s a bit of a false start in retrospect – a typical slab of domestic angst with Cobain gnashing out the lyrics through his raw smoker’s rasp. It would have made a good album track had he survived long enough to follow up In Utero, but it’s hardly a classic.
But then, kicking off with About A Girl from their debut, 1989’s Bleach, we take a fast-forward chronological trip through their career, from snotty, grotty punk upstarts in the ennui-drenched, playful Sliver to unwitting megastars thanks to the irresistible mix of pop nous, generational fury and hard edge of Smells Like Teen Spirit, the song that took a youth movement from the underground to every corner of the world. It was, and remains, perfection, a scream of snarky rebellion wrapped up in a chorus you could – and would – dance to.
Things get darker as we head into In Utero territory, Rape Me, Heart Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea seething, raw, uncompromising and devastatingly personal after the accessibility of Nevermind. And by the time we reach their swansong MTV Unplugged performance with a sublime version of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World that’s so perfect and so emotionally charged you could weep, they’ve morphed from exciting, scrappy kids to men who had seen it all, found ‘it’ lacking, and turned it into great art.
Of course, this collection is no substitute for the albums the songs came from originally, which still crackle with intelligence and energy – the flawless Nevermind in particular remains the high point of the 90s. But as an overview of the band’s career, it’s impossible to find fault in Nirvana.