This review appeared in the 12th December 1992 issue of NME
‘INCESTICIDE’: A title so indicative of Nirvana’s humility, while at the same time bringing home their guilt and self-disgust at this retrospective exercise.
And, well, a Christmas-geared bag of oldies and rarities (God -is this album a Rod Stewart move or what?) doesn’t exactly strike a happy note on my heart strings either, but I grudgingly admit ‘Incesticide’ triumphs, on points. Once you accept the inevitability of patchy quality – Side Two is largely a trudge through oddball work-outs which time and better conceived songs allowed them to leave behind – two major factors are still in its favour.
Firstly, it’s actually improbable that ‘Incesticide’ was born out of a grasping nature. Of course they’ll be glad to divert your cash away from bootleggers’ pockets to their own, but if they were seriously money mad, another ‘Nevermind’ zillion seller, not rough-cut scraps from five years ago which won’t seduce more than a small fraction of their present fan base, would be their goal.
The second, most satisfying aspect to ‘Incesticide’ is that Side One has the sound of an album that never was. Between the recording of ‘Bleach’ in 1988 and ‘Nevermind’ in ’91, a helluva lot happened and here, thanks to the inclusion of the 1990 Peel covers session and ’89s ‘Been A Son’ (resurrected for a ’91 Mark Goodier outing), a few mysteries about their metamorphosis in style are laid out for a proper look.
‘Stain’ and ‘Been A Son’ from the autumn ’89 ‘Blew’ Sub Pop EP are from a time when the three-piece (second guitarist Jason Everman later re-emerged in Soundgarden) were utterly dwarfed by the more eccentric label luminaries Tad and Mudhoney, but were already rooting songs in scuzz-pop manic metal irresistibility.
Those green shoots flowered for the ‘Dive/Sliver’ single a year on, ‘Dive’ weighing in with slamming rhythms and dirty, intoxicating angst, while the pop kid lyrical touch of ‘Sliver’ marked their most coherent statement of intent to date. Coupled with the riffola delirium of covers ‘Turnaround’, ‘Molly’s Lips’ and ‘Son Of A Gun’, Side One gives an insight into a band itching to ditch the tonnage grunge slabs of the ‘Bleach’ mould.
They were also intent on leaving Sub Pop, having by this point spent large chunks of 1990 on successive gruelling American tours, during which drummer Chad Channing disappeared in Spinal Tap fashion, leading to Melvins man Dale Crover’s sit-in for the ‘Sliver’ single and Mudhoney’s Dan Peters’ appearance for their November UK tour. Side closer ‘Polly’ rounds things up nicely by jumping a year on again, charging in with the saccharine punk dynamics we’d come to take for granted from Nirvana by late ’91.
Side Two is not terribly good. Fact is, it’s not supposed to be, otherwise these near five-year-old spring ’88 ‘Bleach’ leftovers wouldn’t have been effectively dumped until now. This patience-testing material from an embryonic, Green River-fixated Nirvana is best forgotten, unless you’re truly smitten.
‘Beeswax’ is ill-formed and jarring, notable only for Kurdt’s (as he was then) caustic spirit. Man, he sounds like he’s gonna howl his way out of the redneckville hell of Aberdeen, Washington. Without that kick-start truculence, Nirvana would not have been. ‘Downer’ is a step up, fuelled rage nailed to a killer hookline. Without ‘Downer’ first, ‘Nevermind’ would never have been.
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‘Mexican Seafood’ provides one of the duller attractions at the double album alternative rock amusement park that is ‘Teriyaki Asthma’ from C/Z Records, Sub Pop’s Seattle-based poor indie metal relatives. Worth checking out.
‘Hairspray Queen’. Hmm, how can I put this? Well, think of what you see after blowing your nose into a tissue…it’s that good. And you don’t keep that for posterity, do you? For ‘Aero Zeppelin’ Nirvana must have drunk some and smoked some, because they lope along, jamming hard, saying nothing, going nowhere. Or is that the point? ‘Big Long Now’ equals one big long yawn, and ’91s ‘Aneurysm’ is lyrically baffling and sounds tired.
So Side One is the clear champ. But where (oh where) is debut single ‘Love Buzz’? Is this, perhaps, the first compilation of many? Ah, so much to look forward to! (7 for Side One, 3 for Side Two)