For its 20-year anniversary, Nirvana’s Nevermind has received a reissue in a number of configurations. The original album has been remastered and is available as a single disc, a two-CD Deluxe Edition, and a four-CD/one-DVD Super Deluxe edition. Revisiting the album for the first time in a number of years, I was reminded just how worthy this album is of such treatment. Much has been said about the cultural impact of the album when it first re-energized the rock scene in the early ‘90s. The suicide of Kurt Cobain added a whole other layer of resonance to everything released by Nirvana. But even setting all that aside, Nevermind works perfectly well when simply viewed as a classic collection of a dozen hook-filled rock songs.
And maybe that’s the best way to approach any classic album. Strip it of all its historical significance and just appreciate it for a well-crafted bunch of songs. There’s very little left to say about Nevermind, at least not for anyone who cared about it when it first came out. These songs have already long been ingrained in their psyche. Nirvana has continued to attract new young fans over the years, and for them this reissue may be even more exciting. Many of today’s teenage music fans were born after the band was no more. Whether they romanticize Cobain’s life (and death) or just view the music for what it is, this is a new context in which to listen to the album.
The two-disc deluxe edition is obviously the most economical way to get a little extra Nevermind. The twelve original album tracks are contained on disc one. It might have arguably made sense to make “Endless, Nameless,” not present on all initial copies of the original ’91 release, its own track. Instead it is once again presented as an unlisted coda to “Something in the Way,” minus the ten minutes of silence that preceded it on original CDs. The first disc is filled out with nine additional tracks, all B-sides from the album’s singles. This includes three – “Been a Son,” “School,” and “Drain You” – that come from the October 31st, 1991 Paramount concert that is presented in its entirety on the fourth disc of the Super Deluxe edition.
Disc two is dominated by two groups of tracks from two different sources. The first eight tracks are the best – the Smart Studio sessions from April of 1990. These Nevermind demos were recorded with Dave Grohl’s predecessor Chad Channing on drums. A couple of these were included on the 2004 box set With the Lights Out, including a shimmering cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now” (which had been originally released in ’91 as a split single with The Melvins, who covered the Velvet’s “Venus in Furs”). These demos make great listening and are the highlight of the two-disc deluxe edition. The second group of tracks comes from the March 1991 “Boombox rehearsals.” A couple of these also surfaced on With the Lights Out and the ’05 distillation Sliver: The Best of the Box. There’s a cool historical value to these demos, but the fidelity is piss poor, making them unlikely to generate repeat listenings.
My personal budget didn’t allow for the acquisition of the Super Deluxe edition. But as well as having the complete Paramount show on CD and DVD, the third disc of that set contains the Devonshire Mixes. This was an early rough mix of the entire Nevermind album by producer Butch Vig, who also produced the aforementioned Smart Studio session demos. I think this limited edition is actually sold out now, but if you can find a copy (and afford it), that’s obviously the most comprehensive configuration.
The remastering of the original album by Bob Ludwig has been a point of controversy among many fans and critics. The album sounds pretty good to my ears, with a fuller bottom end, but take that with a grain of salt. It might only mean that my tinnitus has resulted in the need to have everything louder than it should be. But if you are aware of the so-called “loudness war,” you may find this album over compressed and lacking in dynamics. The album is undeniably louder now, but when I compared tracks back-to-back with the original 1991 CD, I found I preferred the new version.