For three minutes and 38 seconds, grunge enjoys a rebirth with Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right.” Recorded in lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain’s last days, the song was rumored to have been lost. Instead, it is the only complete song the band has to offer post-mortem.
And in just the first few seconds, the single reminds those who watched MTV in the early ’90s what they are missing with the current obsession with boy bands and bare bellies. The first rumblings of Kurt Cobain’s low, searching voice, balanced by a thumping bass and percussion rhythm reminiscent of a heartbeat, are achingly familiar.
The first few chords are distinctly Nirvana, but slightly different Nirvana—a song we haven’t heard before. It’s a sound that many ears have been craving since the end of grunge’s stint on the airwaves. In his typical verse-chorus-verse form, Cobain breaks out in screams—and the memory of his suicide on April 5, 1994, makes it impossible not to wonder whether he was screaming out in pain. “You Know You’re Right” doesn’t have the undying hit status of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but it is a good song, perhaps among the band’s best.
The song is the main attraction of the new album, Nirvana. Other than “You Know You’re Right,” Nirvana’s last entry into the music shelves is little more than a greatest hits compilation. But it is a greatest hits compliation that the people who made Nirvana fought hard over. Determing how to represent the band’s closing chapter was no easy task for former band members and the ever-inflammatory Courtney Love, Cobain’s widow. These songs were chosen with deliberate thought for Nirvana’s legacy—and for this reason alone, the album is worth owning.
The tracks move from Nirvana’s last song to one of their first, “About a Girl.” At least one song from every album is featured, highlighting the best songs from each of the four. According to the liner notes, “Pennyroyal Tea,” a song on which Cobain made a false start in his MTV Unplugged preformance, was also never recorded to Cobain’s satisfaction. On this album, we hear the track as Cobain wanted it to be heard. Unless you were to play this version back to back with the one on In Utero, it’s nearly impossible to hear any difference. But that’s even more of a reminder of Cobain’s legendary perfectionism.
Few people still listen to Nirvana on the regular basis they once did back in grunge’s apogee. With this new release, Nirvana enters the playlist on radios and CD players, reminding us of the seductive power of the gloomy, angry, angsty Seattle heyday. There’s a reason grunge and Nirvana became huge—they were a highly talented rock band and this album makes sure we don’t forget the band’s contribution to music.
But the release is bittersweet. This is the selling of Nirvana. There’s nothing left—this is all the band has to offer. Cobain, the self-hating rock star, is trading on his tortured image to cash in on his one last hit, even if it is after his death.
The result is the end of the band’s mystique. Any dreams of a never-ending supply of new, undiscovered material from a man pop culture has labelled as a tragic young genius are trashed. There’s no point in holding out for more—it’s all gone, the Seattle basement searched and cleaned out. Don’t bother hiding your flannel shirts in your closet hoping for a Seattle Rennisance. Grunge has risen, peaked and spat out its leftovers—the mystery is over and there’s no hope for new glory. But there is “You Know You’re Right.”