Debuting more as a funeral procession than any sort of live performance piece, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York was a deliberate posthumous release from the band that offered another side to the often biting riffs and snarls that accompanied their records previously. With nearly more cover tracks than original Nirvana tracks, MTV Unplugged In New York remains to be a personal touch and bitter closure to nearly an hour of bleeding through sound.
While this record is difficult to cover as it essentially acts as a halfway mark between a greatest hits album and something closer to what David Bowie did with Pin Ups, Nirvana takes and creates renditions that at times hit harder than the original. Beginning with “About A Girl” that glances back at their beginnings of Bleach, a record that Cobain explains with, “most people don’t own [it]” before strumming to break the silence. It is not until the group introduces other personnel like Lori Goldston on the cello with tracks like “Something In The Way” does MTV Unplugged In New York truly shine.
Hearing the acoustic versions of the Meat Puppets’ through “Plateau,” or “Oh Me” does Cobain’s voice add something deeper to the original track. Where Curt Kirkwood was able to have a distinct style of singing that fit the Meat Puppets and casted a lit fire around the group, Cobain drops lower in his vocal approach to form a shadowed figure. The entire record has this dead feel behind it and with the blackened candles that surrounded the stage, as well as the change on percussion for Dave Grohl and the work of acoustic bass from Krist Novoselic. Even when Nirvana adds Pat Smear who was carrying the touring sections of guitar for Nirvana near the bands end, the ensemble feels more complete and easier to reach into.
The second half of MTV Unplugged In New York holds Nirvana as this beautiful apparition that wields more of a dense weapon. The guitar work on “Oh Me” is nothing short of gorgeous and that ties into the backing production that carries with the strings and percussion in sync. MTV Unplugged In New York grows to be nearly 30 in the next few years, and hearing the final moments of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is bone-chilling and desperate. It is a goodbye sendoff that takes inspiration from Lead Belly’s “In The Pines,” giving a rebirth to the American folk singer in the same city that he died in. As MTV Unplugged In New York cascades off this cliff of despair, Nirvana balances one last candle into the night.
Where the wind blows and that candle eventually falls, Nirvana tight walks both beauty and death on two hands. The inevitable end that comes from those dramatic moments as the claps cease, creates a broken barrier between a whole generation waiting to rise again.