On August 31, Universal released a Nirvana best-of singles collection called Icon featuring 11 songs that were all hit singles. You may wonder what the point is behind such a release, and I do too. To me, there isn’t one discernible reason to put something out like this except for the possibility of some making some extra money. Seems like Courtney Love is doing anything she can these days to cash in on Kurt Cobain’s musical legacy, including (gasp) approving another movie. (The first was Gus Van Zant’s Last Days.) With the release of Icon, Universal is attempting to place Nirvana among the many questionable bands who release music simply because the artist has become a commodity. The benefactors of the Bob Marley Estate have done the same.
A band is never about the hit. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as well as the other 10 songs on this flimsy, get-rich-quick knickknack do not, and should not, stand alone. All of the songs found on Icon are great, they were indeed hits, but none deserve to be singled out. The opening track, “You Know You’re Right,” was the last song Nirvana ever recorded and it’s included on any and every posthumous Nirvana release, only making it into the human psyche thanks to mainstream radio and TV bashing us over the head with it upon it’s release. The next four selections, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Come As You Are”, “Lithium”, and “In Bloom” are all drawn from Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind. The amount of hype surrounding this album was so across-the-board overwhelming that it sent the band spiraling into the mainstream and onto to the cover of every magazine around the world. The album’s other darker tracks like “Drain You” and “On A Plain” were conveniently forgotten as Nirvana became a household name. Things from that point on would never be the same.
Tracks six through nine, “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, “Rape Me”, and “Dumb” are off of Nirvana’s third and final studio LP, In Utero. DGC, Nirvana’s record label at the time deemed In Utero unreleasable. Kurt Cobain stated that it would alienate most of their fans. It entered the charts at No. 1. Much of the material on In Utero reverts back to the sound of Bleach-era Nirvana, and you can find far better songs on the album that the average consumer would overlook if he or she stops at Icon and chooses not to dig deeper; “Milk It”, “tourettes” and “Very Ape,” to name a few.
Rounding off Icon are two tracks from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York performance from November, 1993. Again, the songs chosen for this release are not the best although they are indeed hit singles. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, MTV Unplugged produced some phenomenal performances of some truly great songs that aren’t included here. “Something In The Way”, The Leadbelly and Meat Puppets covers, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and “Oh Me”, respectively. These 11 songs complied onto this one CD do nothing more than add to the passionless output of so many other artists. When you’re flipping through the racks at your local record shop you’ll pass this one by as you do the other hundreds of $6.99 bargain bin CD’s that mean nothing to you. Icon may only serve to introduce non-fans to Nirvana; existing fans should, and in all probability will, ignore this release. Icon simply scratches the surface, at best.
On a side note, the three best screams by Kurt Cobain in songs are as follows:
1) At approximately 1:51 into “Do You Love Me”. A Kiss cover found originally on Hard To Believe:A Kiss Covers Compilation.
2) The Mark Goodier Radio Session version of “Aneurysm” off of Incesticide. There is a slower version of “Aneurysm” found on the Japanese import of the Hormoaning EP, but it lacks the guttural intensity found here at just about 3:25.
3) “Spank Thru” off of Outcesticide Vol 1:In Memory Of Kurt Cobain. This version was recorded as part of Nirvana’s first demo, also known as “The Dale Demo” because it featured Dale Crover from The Melvins on drums. Recorded on January 23, 1988 by Jack Endino, this demo as a whole landed Nirvana a contract with Sup Pop Records. Kurt’s shrill can be found at 59 seconds into this particular version.