Ignore the legal wrangling, bad blood, feuds, even Kurt Cobain's suicide, behind the release of this long-awaited single-disc anthology of Nirvana's work, simply titled Nirvana, and focus on one simple thing: does it do its job well? Does it capture the essence of the most influential band of the '90s, the most storied band since the Beatles? Does it have all their best songs on one disc? The answer: kinda. The inherent problem with the disc is that it's difficult to compile Nirvana's best material by any chart-based yardstick, the way that the Beatles 1 -- Cobain's widow made no bones about the fact that she wanted this collection patterned after that hit, and to be as successful a catalog item -- did, since they didn't have that many singles, nor did their career need to be condensed like the Rolling Stones' Forty Licks since they only recorded for five years. Nirvana's best tracks -- not necessarily the same thing as Cobain's best songs, although they frequently overlapped -- were buried on album tracks, B-sides, stray singles, so there's no good criteria for why, say, "Dumb" makes the cut and "Aneurysm" doesn't. Even more problematic, Nirvana's three proper albums, along with the rarities compilation Incesticide and the acoustic MTV Unplugged, all have different personalities and sonic characteristics that don't necessarily fit well together, whether it's the gleaming Nevermind, the ragged indie pop band on Incesticide, or the stark despair of In Utero. So, what you wind up with is a record that has all the hits and many of the radio favorites, plus the very good previously unreleased final recording, "You Know You're Right," in a collection that is less than the sum of its parts. At 50 minutes, it's all too easy to concentrate on what's missing: "Something in the Way," "Polly," "Serve the Servants," "Verse Chorus Verse," "Dive," "Negative Creep," "Love Buzz," "Territorial Pissings," "Drain You," "School," "Lake of Fire," "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?," and, most egregiously, the aforementioned "Aneurysm" are all prime candidates to fill out the remainder of the disc. Not all could have fit, but the presence of a few more tracks, along with placing "You Know You're Right" at the end where it belongs, would have made this collection not just stronger, but possibly definitive. As it stands, it feels like a bit of a cheap compromise and a wasted opportunity.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine