This is the box set Courtney Love
didn't want you to hear. But after years in legal limbo, the Nirvana archives are thrown open on this collection of long-lost material. And the good news is, the quality and relevance of Kurt and company's unreleased work is positively stratospheric. Comprising three CDs and a DVD, With the Lights Out
provides a sharply focused look at the tracks that slipped between the cracks of Nirvana's career, not to mention some nifty time-lapse glances at the development of songs that would later become favorites. The set is peppered with cover material that's quite telling, what with Kurt Cobain
leading his mates -- at their first public performance ever -- through a barely-in-control version of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker," then later slicing out a tension-thick rendition of the Velvet Underground's "Here She Comes Now." The first disc is particularly heavy on previously unheard material, which ranges from bleak, In Utero
sounding scream fests like "Anorexorcist" and "Mrs. Butterworth" (the latter of which finds Cobain pondering suicide as far back as 1988) to surprisingly delicate home demos like the predawn mutter "Don't Want It All." It's revealing to hear the evolution of songs that spent a good deal of time simmering before their eventual release: The version of "Dive" here is markedly slower and more ragged sounding, while an acoustic take on "Lithium," performed by Cobain alone at a radio taping, points up the song's innate delicacy even more than the hit version. There's a goodly amount of acoustic material scattered across the set, notably the previously unreleased "Opinion" (Cobain's embryonic attempt at a '60s-style protest anthem) and three Leadbelly covers, highlighted by the gospel shout-along "They Hung Him on a Cross." The DVD component is equally illuminating, starting with an eight-song rehearsal taped in the basement of Krist Novoselic
's parents' house, before an audience made up of the sort of mustachioed townies that Cobain would rail against on tracks such as "Mr. Mustache" included there. The disc is rounded out by a series of clips from far-flung live shows, notably the previously unreleased "Sappy" (later retitled "Verse Chorus Verse") and a homecoming show version of "Love Buzz," both dating back to 1990. Rife with danger, promise, and poignancy, With the Lights Out
is a perfect distillation of the Nirvana legacy.