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13 October, 2006

Something in the Way

(originally posted here.)

There is a lasting value to classic rock records that, even after years of repeated listening, manage to provide a new insight into the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings. One very good example is Nirvana’s live MTV Unplugged album. It is one of the rawest and most nakedly emotional records in rock’s history. An aural testament to all that Nirvana’s front man, Kurt Cobain was going through. The pain exuded through every song is heartfelt and visceral. It was as if the band knew that this would be their last record together. It was Cobain’s open suicide note to the world, in song. It is a record that even now, after all these years, does not lessen its emotional impact, making it one of the few rock records that is difficult to listen to in one sitting. This is not some pleasant background muzak. This is one man’s pain and anguish channeled through songs that retain a grain of infinite beauty at their core. And dare I say it; even celebrate the finer points of life with their lean but not mean melodic tones. It is this essential contradiction that makes this album still as relevant today as it was when it was first released, just after Cobain’s suicide.

After all, how many unplugged records are out there that offer songs from such disparate artists as David Bowie and Meat Puppets, a folk standard, mixed with grunge’s finest moments, all in one place? It is difficult to single out one song from a record that is consistently excellent, from the opening hope of ‘About a Girl’ to the slightly creepy take on the closing folk standard, ‘Where Did You Sleep Last night?’ But my favorites are undoubtedly ‘Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam’, a song by the The Vaselines, Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, and Nirvana’s own raw cry, ‘Pennyroyal Tea’. However, if I had to pick one song it has to be the hauntingly beautiful ‘Something in the Way’, which stripped bare, takes on a new avatar here. It is as if the song is hiding a deep dark secret. Even though, on the surface, it has childishly simple lyrics, they come with a certain morbid fascination attached. And perhaps that’s the reason why it was used with such chilling precision to demonstrate the surreal boredom of war in the film ‘Jarhead’.

There is some humorous banter too, in between songs, between Cobain, his band and the audience. He was having fun. Everyone was having fun. But in retrospect it comes across as gallows humor. And that makes the record all the more tragic.

So what are you waiting for? Go on and pop that record in on a lonely and grey evening. It will make you cringe, perhaps even take you to the pits but in the end you will come away cleansed. An out and out cathartic record if ever there was one.

1 Comments:

Blogger khushwant Sharma said...

Perhaps the songs are a way of attracting only the real afficionados of grunge. The more you know the more you can see.

After Cobain, Grunge can never be the same.

20 October, 2006 11:29  

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