MTV Unplugged In New York


Geffen, 1994

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I remember well when MTV Unplugged In New York, the first posthumous release from grunge legends Nirvana, came out—and I remember the album leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t listen to it for the longest time.

Never mind the fact it spawned hits with “About A Girl,” “All Apologies” and their cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” —it just seemed like their record label hadn’t waited for Kurt Cobain’s body to get cold before they started milking the Nirvana name for everything they could get out of it. Admittedly, this disc—one half of what was supposed to be a two-disc live collection—had to be rushed out in order to beat bootleggers to the punch, but it still felt like a cash grab.

Fast forward the clock nearly 30 years, and the humble scribe dares to listen to this disc again… and, honestly, it’s pretty damned good. Its only sin was being released less than a year after Cobain’s death.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Cobain and crew gave the literal finger to the MTV executives who lined up this gig, daring to play lesser-known songs not only from their own discography, but from other artists. The three songs from the Meat Puppets—featuring Cris and Curt Kirkwood themselves—more than likely opened people’s eyes up to that band who hadn’t known much about them before. Same goes for their cover of The Vaselines’s “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” —and the primal scream at the end of their cover of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” probably spoke more about Cobain’s fragile condition in late 1993 than any tabloid could have.

It is interesting that Nirvana chose not to perform the standby hits for MTV Unplugged In New York—especially “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was a conscious decision on the band’s part—and, in fact, probably was the wisest thing they could have chosen to do. By eliminating a comfort zone, it forced Nirvana to dip back and dig for such tracks as “Polly,” “On A Plain” and “Pennyroyal Tea.”

Yes, Cobain’s guitar work is a tad sloppy, as it had been throughout his career, the only real drawback to this disc. But that aspect often seems to actually enhance the music contained on this disc, as it captures the raw essence of a band daring to experiment with their own music. It was a huge musical chance… and, by God, it worked.

Special note needs to be given to guitarist Pat Smear and cellist Lori Goldston, who contribute their own musical talents to these 14 renditions. Honestly, “Something In The Way” and “Dumb” would never have worked without Goldston’s cello—they might have been good, but they would definitely have been lacking.

MTV Unplugged In New York is one of those albums that is damn near perfect in every way. Had it been released more than six months after Cobain’s death, it would have been viewed as a masterpiece at the time. Now, removed from the raw emotion that was 1994, one sees its brilliance much more clearly.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-



© 2023 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Geffen, and is used for informational purposes only.