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Album Review: Nirvana, "Mtv Live Unplugged in New York"

Ara is a journalism graduate from California State University, Northridge, who is always looking to explore his writing opportunities.

This Is an Album by Nirvana That May Be Forgotten by Some Music Fans

In the brief career of alternative rock band Nirvana (if we can even call a seven year career brief), there is one album of theirs that some fans may forget about. That album is called MTV Unplugged in New York. That is a LIVE album performed by Nirvana on November 18, 1993 in New York City. However, the album was not released until November 1, 1994, almost six months after Kurt Cobain was found dead.

Nirvana Covers Songs by David Bowie and The Vasolines

“Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” is a cover of the song by the Vasolines. This LIVE album by Nirvana is also memorable for me because I listened to these guys a lot in my middle school years. In that song, Kurt Cobain actually does a decent vocal job in the lyrical line “don’t expect me to die for me.” There is also a cover performance of the song “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie.

Kurt Cobain Reveals Something About His Personality and Character

It was Cobain himself who famously had said before the song was performed that he had a guarantee that he would screw the song up. Even before the performance of "Pennyroyal Tea," he also said that this is a song that he might screw up as well and decided to play the song in the normal key.

I can tell that his voice was strained at this time and sadly, he would not be in this world for much longer after this LIVE performance. Kurt didn’t even like hearing someone say from the audience that the song sounded good. He may have been extremely insecure or unsure of his abilities.

Additional Perspective

Pitchfork Magazine reports that Kurt had ordered the stage to be decorated with black candles and stargazer lilies. Could that have been a sign of his suicide which was to come? Mike Powell a contributor writes that “when in actuality it had more to do with his penchant for twisting conventional beauty into something grotesque,” (Powell, 2019). I wouldn’t call that grotesque, more like morbid in a way. The set list was said to be submitted to MTV without any concessions or explanation. Cobain was also said to have been unhappy with the album Nevermind which had been released in 1991 and the album that I would say catapulted Nirvana into superstar status. What could he have possible not liked about the album? Was it the production? Was it the songwriting? I don’t even know the answer myself but this album is certainly something different compared to what we had heard from this band.

Cobain was said to be acting petulant and loathing himself so much that he had asked David Geffen to buy this Lead Belly guitar for him. He famously said in an October 1993 issue of Spin Magazine that “I just wish there was some really rich rock star I could borrow the cash from,” (Powell, 2019). A wealthy rock star such as Cobain really shouldn’t have been begging like this for someone else to buy him an expensive guitar. That tells me of Cobain’s bitterness about life and he never really adjusted to being famous and threw his life away.

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Final Thoughts About the Album and Its Legacy

MTV Unplugged in New York is a decent set of LIVE songs performed by what may be the most well-known alternative rock band in the history of Washington State. Every album has a sort of musical legacy and this one is no exception. The album debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200 and it also was certified multi-platinum 8 times by the Recording Industry Association of America. That’s a great way for an album to have aged and for others to have recognized its importance.

Bibliography

Powell, M. (2019, February 24). Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York. Pitch fork Magazine.

© 2022 Ara Vahanian

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