After numerous delays including an extensive legal battle, the much anticipated Nirvana box set has been released November of 2004, over ten years after front man Kurt Cobain’s death. The box set, titled "With The Lights Out" coming from the bands biggest hit "Smells Like Teen Spirt", is not a typical best-of collection or a series of rare studio outtakes, but an audio time line of the band in its most raw and personal state. "With The Lights Out" begins with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s "Heartbreaker" taken from Nirvana’s first live performance back in 1987, and concludes with solo home recordings done by Kurt Cobain shortly before his death. Following the three audio discs there is an included fourth disc DVD, which consists of rehearsal videos filmed at the house of the mother of bassist Krist Novoselic, live videos including Dave Grohl’s first performance, a rare Sub Pop video for "In Bloom", and various other humorous bits. Also included in the package is a 60 page booklet providing a very interesting read on Nirvana and its legacy. For anyone even remotely interested in what Nirvana really stood for, "With The Lights Out" brings out what tends to get buried in the glitter and the hype surrounding Nirvana’s various radio hits, but definitely targets those who have played Nirvana’s previous albums to death and would like hear some relatively uncovered material.
A gloomy cloud has hovered over the story of Nirvana following Kurt Cobain’s ambiguous suicide in April of 1994, but the first disc of "With The Lights Out" paints a very different picture. Before there was a grunge title, a group of underground angst-filled youth created music to express what the glossy mainstream rejected. Songs like the cryptic "Anorexorcist" and the down-right silly "Mrs. Butterworth" and "Beans" showcases the very "punk rock" attitude that had made the Sex Pistols beforehand what they were. Aside of hidden gems such as those, there are also some very interesting peaks at the songs that helped define Nirvana’s legacy such as early stages of "About A Girl" and "Polly". Even before "MTV Unplugged", Nirvana had a side quite different from the staple "punk" feel, such expressed in covers like "They Hung Him On A Cross", "Grey Goose", and "Ain’t It A Shame" done with Screaming Tree’s Mark Lanegan. Disc 1 of "With The Lights Out" has a very light hearted sense and a look at what only a few fortunate individuals along the West Coast had been able to experience up to this point.
Disc 2 represents where Nirvana first started to become solid as a band, and outlines the beginning of the bands most successful period. Beginning with acoustic recordings such as an early "Lithium", which came to be a very big single off of Nirvana’s classic album "Nevermind", and the very promising track titled "Opinion", and concluding with the heavy "Oh The Guilt" and the Butch Vig mix of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Nirvana shows just how they came to be named one of the biggest rock acts of all time. Along side of demos of Nirvana’s most memorable tracks, a highlight is definitely Nirvana’s interpretation of Velvet Underground’s "Here She Comes Now" where it is evident how Nirvana always brings a very distinct and original feel to whatever they do, even if it is a cover.
With success comes burden, and that is shown throughout the closing years which are documented on Disc 3 of "With The Lights Out". Opening with two versions of "Rape Me", which is a song about the troubles that can come with success, a very clear image is presented of a burdened Kurt Cobain. Nirvana’s final studio album, "In Utero", is sprinkled throughout this disc with a demo of the hit "Heart Shaped Box", an acoustic "All Apologies", and more including a near ten minute jam of "Scentless Apprentice". The dark aura of this album continues with a track even titled "I Hate Myself And I Want To Die" recorded in 1993. Although the legacy of Nirvana was heading towards a saddening close, this was one of Kurt Cobain’s most creative periods. This, of course, drove Kurt to write such amazing songs as the timeless "Sappy" and "Do Re Mi". Also, in light of the last song ever recorded by Nirvana titled "You Know You’re Right", which pushed the box set back from original release date due to a legal debate on how and even if the song would ever be released publically, there is a very well done acoustic performance of the song included on the third disc.
Few bands have come around to really set the bar on modern rock, and to some, Nirvana was the last band to give breath to a rebellious genre of free thinking musicians. "With The Lights Out" is not a collection of all those hard to find rarities or a means to try to rope new potential fans in, it is a look at what went on behind the scenes of a band that has influenced a generation and brought life to a dying breed. For this particular element to the Nirvana catalog, die hard fans may be a bit disappointed with the outcome considering there is still a lot they could have included. For example, more live covers and alternate versions of rarities like “Sappy”, along side of the entire collection of Nirvana music videos, but you take what you can get. Nirvana, whether anyone would like to admit it or not, has played a role in what many bands base their music on today. Despite the number of copy-cat acts, Nirvana was, and still proves to be, the real deal.